HBCU Class of 2016: Top 10 Tips for The Journey Ahead

Three excited Class of 2016 graduates of Alcorn State University pose for a photo before the ceremony.
Class of 2016 Alcorn State University Graduates.

An Open Letter to the HBCU Class of 2016

Dear HBCU Graduates,

First and foremost, congratulations on successfully pursuing and completing your baccalaureate degree! As a college graduate, you join a network of 22% of all African Americans who hold a bachelor’s degree or higher. For those of you who represent the increasing racial and ethnic diversity at our HBCUs, you are among the growing number of non-black students who have experienced the tremendous value of an HBCU education.

I’d like to share with you my Top Ten Tips for the journey ahead:

1. While your name appears on your degree, it is not fully owned by you.

Rather, you are its guardian. Countless numbers of people, known and unknown, have made college access and success possible for you by investing in the institution from which you are graduating. This includes your family members, faculty, taxpayers and donors, among others. You have an obligation to do well and to do good.

2. Education is a lifelong journey that does not end with receipt of your degree.

If your alma mater has not cultivated in you a heightened sense of curiosity accompanied by a passion and commitment to excellence, equity and equality, you have a degree but not the comprehensive foundation for becoming a lifelong learner.

3. Don’t be a settler when it comes to the pursuit of excellence in all aspects of your life, personally and professionally.

Invest in your own growth and continued development.

4. Develop a healthy relationship with change because that’s the only constant there is.

Most importantly, be a change agent of one and abstain from talking about what others should do to address a particular problem or challenge.

5. Don’t turn your back on the institution nor the community that produced you.

Your life is forever intertwined with both and they need you if they are to fulfill their mission of serving the commonweal.

6. Don’t use your education to perfect the status quo.

Embrace wholeheartedly the many opportunities to be a barrier breaker and to empower others for change.

7. Be a philanthropist beginning with receipt of your first paycheck.

No matter how small the sum, include your alma mater in your monthly budget.

8. Live a balanced life. Family, friends, and community are at the heart of a life well lived.

They will sustain you during challenging times and celebrate with you during the good times.

9. Practice humility and kindness no matter the disposition of those with whom you come in contact.

An attitude of gratitude is a choice you can make, each and every day.

10. Become a genuine CEO: A Chief Encourager of Others.

Choose to see the best in others, and encourage them to achieve their highest dreams.

In honor of the first African American woman who will grace our national currency, I’d like to leave you with these words from one of America’s legendary CEOs, Harriet Tubman:

“Every great dream begins with a dreamer. Always remember, you have within you the strength, the patience, and the passion to reach for the stars to change the world.”

She dreamed big—and changed the world for the better. Now it’s your turn!

With all my best wishes,

Charlie Nelms
HBCU Advocate & Retired Chancellor

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