One of the first items presented to Aminta H. Breaux when she became Bowie State University’s 10th and first female president in 2017: bring commencement ceremonies back on campus.
After a seven-year hiatus because of logistics, space and other challenges, the more than 700 students in the Class of 2019 celebrated on Friday the school’s spring commencement at Bulldog Stadium. Previous ceremonies took place at the University of Maryland’s College Park campus.
As the sun shined upon Bulldog Stadium with the gold bulldog emblazoned at midfield, Breaux praised the school’s alumni association in organizing the school’s annual tradition back at the oldest of the state’s historically Black colleges and universities.
In addition, members of the Prince George’s County Police Department helped guide traffic around the campus and drove golf carts for parents and family members to the stadium. The school added two additional bleachers to accommodate several hundred more people.
“This has been an extraordinary time in the university,” Breaux said. “Class of 2019: where are you? I am so very proud of you. We are racing to excellence.”
A record 6,320 students enrolled at the school in the 2018-2019 year.
Shanell Powell, 22, who received a bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in management, will relocate to the West Coast and work for Microsoft in Seattle.
“Bowie State helped me grow,” said Powell, who graduated from Parkdale High School in Riverdale. “My opportunity is to open up the door for everybody else following me and make this a normal thing coming from an HBCU.”
DeRonte Craig, 21, not only served as one of the most visible student leaders on campus as Mister Bowie, but he also survived with his father incarcerated to earn a bachelor’s degree in business administration. He plans to pursue graduate school and continue running his company, The Gentlemen’s Toolbox, which provides accessories and consulting for young men to prepare for the business world.
“I am creating history and creating a legacy for other people to follow,” he said about 30 minutes before he and the other graduates walked into Bulldog Stadium. “I bleed the black and gold. To be able to leave home the right way is just the best feeling.”
Before the ceremony began and graduates walked to the stadium, keynote speaker and journalist Roland S. Martin greeted them and even checked their “shoe game.”
“What in the world are you wearing?” he said to laughter and smiles among the students lined up in the school’s College of Arts and Sciences.
On more a serious note, Martin focused his 23-minute speech titled, “It’s your time now.”
He mentioned as future alumni, it’s important to give back and keep the institution thriving. At the same time, don’t fear speaking out on problems such as challenging the ongoing lawsuit between the state of Maryland and HBCU advocates.
Recently, a judged ruled to continue mediation between the two parties. Gov. Larry Hogan offered $100 million settlement over a 10-year-period for Bowie State, Coppin State, Morgan State and the University of Maryland Eastern Shore. Advocates said at least $1 billion would suffice to provide equal funding for the four Maryland HBCUs.
“I will expect that every single graduate of this class to tell Gov. Larry Hogan and the state of Maryland that a $100 million settlement for what this state has done to HBCUs is grossly unacceptable [and] it is wrong,” he said. “This school should not be spending precious resources on lawyers fighting for equity and funding. It’s time for Maryland, a blue state, to do right by its HBCUs.”
Although many of the students are in their 20s, he illustrated how the late D.C. Mayor Marion Barry, Rep. John Lewis (D-Georgia) and anti-apartheid activist Caroline Hunter all made history fighting injustice at a young age.
“You must accept the same challenge and decide what is going to be your fight in 2019,” Martin said. “Who are you going to challenge? Who are you going to confront? You must look folks in the eye and say, ‘Do you understand? I went to Bowie State. I struggled. I fought through and you are facing somebody who is used to fighting … and if you think I’m going to give you, [then] you have another thing coming. It is my time now.'”