Howard Celebrates 138th Charter Day Convocation

As more than 100 Howard University alumni and alumnus with doctoral degrees proudly proceeded into Cramton Auditorium to the distinctive violin piece entitled War March of the Priests, the rich legacy that preceded and continues to precede this Black institution of higher learning was made apparent.

Howard University celebrated 138 years of existence during its annual Charter Day Convocation on March 4, 2005. Provost Richard A. English, Ph.D. of Howard delivered the keynote address.

Dr. English told the audience that when Howard University was created it was an “audacious, bold, daring and unprecedented idea.” It was an open university for all seeking to be educated.

“In my day Howard University was the champion for African-Americans,” he said.

He went on to say that Howard University is the only school that graduates the most black PhD students every year, as well as producing the largest amount of African Americans that enter the professional world.

Dr. English told the filled auditorium that this school was associated with Ralph J. Bunche, the first African American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize, Charles R. Drew, whose research saved countless lives during World War II, E. Franklin Frazier, who studied the Black family structure in depth, poet Sterling Brown and Pulitzer Prize Winner Toni Morrison.

He also said that Howardites took on the task of developing solutions to dilemmas that they saw around them.

When Dr. English left the podium he told the Howard community to continue to preserve the uniqueness and irreplacibility of this school.

“I loved English’s speech,” said Antoinette Macklin a sophomore majoring in Psychology, “It was motivating for me when he exemplified Drew and Morrison.”

Raquel Smith, a senior majoring in speech pathology said, “It was pretty good. He gave me a sense of pride as a student by reflecting on Howard’s great history.”

“Provost English, a son of Howard, charged us to stay on track,” said Kwame Osei Reed, a two time graduate of Howard University and now a Professor in the School of Divinity, “This was quintessential Howard and a celebration of its founding in the finest.”

The ceremony also recognized four persons with Distinguished Alumni Award Recipients for their various contributions. They were Dr. Walter J. Leonard, J.D., 1968, in the field of Education and Civil Rights, Dr. Charles J. McDonald, M.D., 1960, in the field of Medicine and Community Service, Ms. Wendy Raquel Robinson, B.F.A.,1989, in the Field of Entertainment and Dr. Thelma Barnaby Thompson, B.A., 1970; M.A., 1972; Ph.D., 1978, in the Field of Education.

The Howard University Choir with Orchestra under the direction of James Weldon Norris gave two worthy performances which each received a standing ovation. This first selection included “Worthy is the Lamb” and “Hallelujah” and the other was “The Day is Past and Gone,” “Run On,” and “Rock-A- My-Soul,” which featured soloist Shelton Becton.

“The singing by the choir was the best,” said Billie Holmes a freshman majoring in Political Science, “It was a great to hear them do something contemporary.”

“The performance of the choir made me feel great. It showed the beauty of the University,” said Phillip Murray a junior majoring in Biology “and English enumerated the accomplishments of the University and those still to come.”

During the Convocation Program on two occasions the great, late Ossie Davis was remembered. Once by Dr. Floretta Dukes McKenzie, Chairwoman of the Board of Trustees for Howard University, who uplifted Davis’ most memorable quote from last year’s Charter Day Celebration -“Freedom is eternal vigilance.”

The next mention of Mr. Davis was by Howard University President H. Patrick Swygert. He also referred to a piece of Davis’ speech that said, “This generation’s moral assignment was to complete the agenda of the Civil Rights Movement” by seeking equality in employment, healthcare, and housing.

In addition, Swygert called the attendees to pay tribute to Shirley Chisholm and James Foreman in a moment of silence.

“I just love the tradition of it,” said Justin D’ King a sophomore majoring in Mechanical Engineering, “It was so enlightening. I had no obligation to come here other than my personal interests and I have no regrets.”