Nearly two weeks into his tenure as Howard University’s (HU) 18th president, Dr. Ben Vinson III, has set out to show HU community members more of his personal side.
During Howard’s 186th convocation, he did just that, telling the hundreds who filled Cramton Auditorium on Friday about his upbringing in Italy, a chance encounter with an HU student early on in his life, and his children’s excitement about HU gear.
These reflections, which elicited light chuckles, culminated in Vinson’s reinforcement of a vision that connects the HU community with the African diaspora in the global human rights struggle.
“Part of being of service at Howard is leaning on our connections to … the African continent, the Caribbean, Latin America, Black America and elsewhere to become partners in elevating the totality of the African experience,” Vinson said.
“At Howard University, we exist broadly and it’s reflected in our illustrious graduates and phenomenal alumni body who’s a testament to what we do here,” Vinson continued. “The world needs the Howard way. It’s incumbent upon Howard University to share that way with our communities, local and global.”
As this year’s HU convocation, keynote speaker Vinson followed in the footsteps of then-Sen. Barack Obama, Congresswoman Maxine Waters, Archbishop Desmond Tutu, HU President Mordecai Wyatt Johnson and several others who’ve performed similar duties throughout most of HU’s history.
On Friday, the convocation ceremony opened with a procession of faculty and trustee board members followed by a presentation of the colors and a singing of James Weldon Johnson’s “Lift Every Voice and Sing” and prayer by the Rev. Dr. Bernard L. Richardson, Howard’s executive officer for religious affairs.
Before Vinson came to the podium, trustee board Chair Dr. Laurence C. Morse and HU Student Association President Nia Naylor delivered remarks in support of their new university president.
Naylor encouraged freshmen, and other students, to work with Vinson in taking HU to the next level.
“I’m brimming with enthusiasm [at] the chance to collaborate with our president. We’re going to chart a course to a more impactful future,” Naylor said in her message to freshmen.
“You bring a unique passion [and] perspective to our university,” she continued. “We together create a tapestry of excellence. As we dive into this year, let’s do so with open hearts and minds and a desire to make a change. We stand on the shoulders of giants and it’s our responsibility to continue their legacy of excellence.”
Vinson, who officially started at HU on Sept. 5, has served senior leadership roles at George Washington University and Case Western Reserve University. He has amassed a research catalog focused on the experiences of Black people throughout the Diaspora, including Venezuela and Mexico.
As provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University, Vinson oversaw academic and university research. He also led the university’s “Think Big” strategic planning initiative aimed at boosting representation of historically marginalized student populations.
Christopher Kelly, a first-year pharmacy graduate student, said Vinson’s childhood story, as it relates to his parents’ love and the tight-knit communities they lived in around the world, resonated with him.
Kelly, an alumnus of Bowie State University hailing from Brooklyn, New York, said he’s been able to tap into a campus community not long after starting at HU.
“Life can be hard but having people with you is 10 times better than being by yourself,” Kelly told The Informer.
“There’s a sense of family here. I talked to everyone in my class on the first day so we are close,” he added.
Starting the Year Off Right
Food, music and games, provided by the university, filled the campus’ famous “Yard” for a cookout, hosted in collaboration with WHUTV and WHUR 96.3.
While enjoying post-convocation festivities freshman Modupe Ajinaku, from Atlanta, said he has already found a home at Howard.
“I have felt really welcomed and I feel like I am still getting acclimated, but everyone is really trying to make sure that our class, as freshmen, is just comfortable with the campus and comfortable with everything that we have going on that’s new here,” Ajinaku said.
“I am looking forward to all of the connections, the good people,” said the freshman from Atlanta, who plans on majoring in African American studies. “I am looking forward to the quality of the Afro-American studies department education here, making friends, bonding with the professors, and working towards my future.”
Amaya Shannon, an HU freshman from Tampa, Florida, said she sees the campus as the ideal environment to pursue a film career. Since coming to D.C., she has taken daily treks through the Yard to meet other students and organizations, and get connected to opportunities.
“I’ve noticed all the things happening on The Yard [to help you] make something of yourself,” Shannon said. “I haven’t experienced that anywhere else where corporations and leaders are coming through.”
Freshman Anthony Vaughn expressed similar feelings about his future at The Mecca.
Vaughn, a finance major from Flint, Michigan, came to HU Convocation in a black suit, as required of first-year students in HU School of Business. He later joined his friends on The Yard where they enjoyed music, food and each other’s company.
For Vaughn, all of these elements on a warm, but brisk, Friday afternoon emphasized the benefits of attending a historically Black university in the nation’s capital. He told The Informer that, in order to fulfill his goals, he’ll take full advantage of what HU has to offer students.
“I love the opportunities here and the vibrancy of the campus,” Vaughn said. “I want to open up my own wealth management firm in Flint and open up a nonprofit back home to teach financial literacy. There are internships here to further my career and help me pass down financial literacy to future generations.”
Alana I. Smith, a senior television film major from Sacramento, California, who serves as council president for the Cathy Hughes School of Communications, reflected on the benefits of studying at Howard.
“It is just a dope experience for me to be surrounded by people that look like me,” she said., “Overall, I would say, the best thing about being a Howard student is being able to pursue my passion while being my authentic self and being surrounded around a supportive community of people that look like me.”