78 Historically Black Colleges and Universities will participate in a virtual commencement celebration, which boasts guests like Kevin Hart, former President Barack Obama and Senator Kamala Harris.
The idea was conceived by one of Dallas’ very own college leaders, Paul Quinn College President Dr. Michael Sorrell.
Dr. Sorrell said a conversation with two senior students is where it all began. The coronavirus had seemingly ruined their hopes for the graduation ceremony they’d worked for.
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“Both of whom have been fantastic students for us,” said Sorrell. “Their families were robbed of the opportunity to have that moment.”
And then he said he had an idea while at home thinking about those conversations.
“I literally was sitting at the desk that I’m sitting at right now in my home office,” he said. “I’m thinking about this in my mind and I said, ‘you know, we should do a national celebration.’”
Sorrell made a call to a contact at JPMorgan Chase who said she’d make some calls herself.
“Whereas I might’ve called a couple of my boys, she calls Kevin Hart, she calls Wyclef Jean. Her Rolodex is a little different than my Rolodex,” said Dr. Sorrell of his well-connected contact.
The idea ballooned into what is now the National HBCU Commencement Celebration. The event will honor more than 27,000 graduates from 78 different HBCUs throughout the country.
Sorrell said he’s amazed at how the idea has taken off nationally.
“There are moments when you know that something has a special place,” he said.
The celebration now has the backing of fortune 500 companies and includes Omari Hardwick, DJ D-Nice, Nas, Senator Kamala Harris, Mellody Hobson and former President Barack Obama as guests.
Sorrell said he doesn’t normally engage in debates about the relevance of HBCUs. He knows they’re needed. But for those who might still be wondering, he said let this be a reminder that HBCUs are valuable and vital to the community.
“I think this answers the question loudly, and clearly and succinctly that these are institutions that people identify with, that people care about,” he said. “That an event that didn’t exist seven-weeks ago managed to pull all these individuals together.”
According to the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, more than 75% of HBCU students rely on Pell Grants. Dr. Sorrell said more than 70% of students at Paul Quinn College succeed with no financial assistance from their families. And many of them are first-generation college graduates. He said that’s why being recognized for their accomplishments is critical.
Sorrell said it paid off to have an idea that resonated with so many people.
“Sometimes you can be so consumed with your day to day hustle and your day-to-day struggle just trying to make ends meet that you don’t know how many people identify with you and care about you,” he said. “We see you. We understand and we are not going to let this virus take away your moment.”
The event will be live-streamed this Saturday at 2 p.m. The virtual afterparty hosted by DJ D-Nice will take place the same day at 9 p.m. The virtual cookout is scheduled for Sunday, May 17 at 12:00 p.m.
Details on how to join the celebration can be found on the Paul Quinn College website.
*Map locations are approximate, central locations for the city and are not meant to indicate where actual infected people live.
**County totals below include all 32 North Texas counties, not just Collin, Dallas, Denton and Tarrant.