By Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr.
Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) have had a long tradition of pursuing and encouraging excellence. Howard University in Washington, D.C. is considered by many to be the flagship of HBCUs. It one of the leading institutions of higher education in United States with a global brand of high achievement and historic contributions to the empowerment of Black America and to all who strive for human progress.
I am a proud graduate of Howard University and a strong proponent of the evolution of hip-hop culture and entrepreneurship. Therefore, I am extremely pleased that Interim President Wayne A. I. Frederick selected Sean John “P. Diddy” Combs to deliver the 2014 commencement keynote address. This is another example of President Frederick, a well-respected faculty member and an accomplished scholar, providing Howard University with effective leadership during a period that the university is searching for a new president.
As soon as President Frederick made the announcement that Sean Combs would be the commencement speaker, there was an immediate outcry by those who felt that Combs, who dropped out of Howard before graduating, was an inappropriate choice. I beg to differ. A true education is not strictly defined by whether one graduates from college.
Would anyone dare call Mya Angelou, who didn’t graduate from college, uneducated? Should she be banned from delivering commencement addresses? If we going to go by that standard, Microsoft founder Bill Gates and Facebook creator Mark Zuckerberg, both Harvard dropouts, wouldn’t be welcome on college campuses as commencement speakers.
Even if that weren’t the case, Howard University has had a long and distinguished tradition of pushing the envelope when it comes to determining both what is ultimately good for the university and what is good for Black America without apology. And selecting P. Diddy is nothing to apologize for.
At a time when some misinformed critics of HBCUs are questioning their relevancy, it is the perfect time to honor this icon. And judging by the reaction of those directly involved – the graduating class, the student body, faculty, staff, administrators, and alumni – it was the right call.
President Frederick emphasized, “We are honored to have Mr. Combs serve as our speaker. He sat in classrooms where our students sit, walked ‘The Yard,’ and like many students, his entrepreneurial spirit was sparked at Howard. We know he will inspire our class to work hard and to always strive for excellence.”
Some doubters say Howard University is taking a big “risk” by inviting Sean P. Diddy back to the campus to speak at the graduation ceremonies and presenting him with an Honorary Doctorate Degree in Humanities. Yet, we know that some risks – if this is actually one – are worth taking.
There are millions of Americans of all colors who have a positive lifestyle and consciousness today as a direct result of the evolution of hip-hop culture. This single act of institutional courage by Howard University by officially recognizing the outstanding achievements of Sean Combs will make Howard even more relevant to today’s youth.
According to university officials, Combs will be honored along with such other dignitaries as Wolf Blitzer, CNN’s lead political news anchor; Dr. Clive Callender, former LaSalle D. Leffall, Jr. Professor of Surgery at the Howard University College of Medicine and the first physician to perform a transplant at Howard Hospital; Benny Golson, internationally renowned jazz legend; and Indra K. Nooyi, Chairman and CEO of PepsiCo who is responsible for running its global food and beverage portfolio of 22 brands.
On May 10, Howard University will present more than 1,800 graduates with degrees. President Frederick stated, “In selecting the individuals who will be awarded honorary degrees, Howard University continues the tradition of indentifying leaders whose work has clearly contributed to the advancement of their fields and the world.”
Sean John Combs is the chairman, CEO and founder of Combs Enterprises, one of the world’s premiere groups of companies and global brands. Recently, Time magazine and CNN recognized Combs as “One of the most influential Businessmen in the world.” P. Diddy Combs is known and admired my millions of people as a master brand-builder, pop culture icon, trend-setting entrepreneur, and a champion of youth education. Over the past 30 years, I have seen first-hand how Combs continues to be a respected leader in hip-hop culture who always gives back to communities in need.
Thank you, Howard University for your courage and your wisdom in honoring Sean John Combs. Excuse me, Dr. Sean John Combs.
Benjamin F. Chavis, Jr. is president of Education Online Services Corporation and the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network. He can be reached at http://drbenjaminfchavisjr.wix.com/drbfc.