Notable Spring 2016 HBCU Commencement Speakers

Last Updated on April 28, 2016

Graduates listen to the keynote speaker during 2015 Jackson State University undergraduate commencement ceremony.

It’s spring graduation time for the nation’s HBCU’s and many of the Universities have an impressive roster of speakers scheduled to address their 2016 commencement ceremonies. From executives, entrepreneurs, TV personalities to top elected officials, these commencement speakers are a diverse group of internationally recognized thought leaders and public figures. Take a look at the sample of this year’s Spring lineup in order of ceremony dates.

Spring 2016 HBCU Commencement Speakers

Jackson State University: First Lady Michelle Obama

Michelle Obama
Michelle Obama
Date: Saturday, April 23, 10:30 a.m.
Venue: Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium

The First Lady will deliver the address at Jackson State University’s 139th Spring Commencement Ceremony. Mrs. Obama will address more than 1,000 graduates as well as their friends, family and members of the university community. As part of her Reach Higher initiative, Mrs. Obama will deliver the commencement addresses at Jackson State University in Jackson, MS ; Santa Fe Indian School in Santa Fe, NM and City College of New York in New York, NY. These mark the final commencement addresses Mrs. Obama will deliver as First Lady.

Florida A&M University: U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr. and Florida Agriculture Commissioner Adam H. Putnam

 Adam H. Putnam
Adam Putnam
Date: Saturday, April 30, 9 a.m. and 2 p.m.
Venue: Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium

Former U.S. Representative and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam Putnam has played an instrumental role in supporting and promoting FAMU’s agricultural and research priorities, including the historic Brooksville land transfer from the USDA – the largest in history to a historically Black college or university. During FAMU’s recent College of Agriculture and Food Sciences Research Forum, Putnam, who served as a panelist, gave special recognition to the University, applauding FAMU for its successful strides in agriculture and extension outreach services as a land-grant institution.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr.
John B. King, Jr.

U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., J.D., Ed.D., who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015 is also a strong advocate for the important role HBCU’s play in the U.S. education system. King is a trailblazer in the education landscape. He previously oversaw the Department of Education’s cross-agency collaboration for President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper task force, which seeks to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. He was the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State’s education commissioner. Both Putnam and King will address more than 1,200 students who will receive degrees ranging from agribusiness and computer science to nursing and educational leadership.

Dillard University: Actor and Author Terrence “J” Jenkins

Terrence J
Terrence “J” Jenkins
Date: Saturday, May 7, at 8 a.m.
Venue: Historic Avenue of the Oaks

Alcorn State University: President and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund Johnny C. Taylor Jr.

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
Johnny C. Taylor, Jr.
Date: Saturday, May 7, 8:30 a.m. and the 1 p.m.
Venue: Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex

Lawyer, author and public speaker, Johnny C. Taylor Jr., will deliver the keynote speech to 594 graduates at Alcorn State University’s 2016 Commencement ceremonies. Taylor serves as the president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), which is a national organization that represents the country’s 47 publicly supported Historically Black Colleges and Universities. Taylor also serves on the board of Gallup, a research based, global performance management consulting company, and the Board of Trustees of The Cooper Union, a privately funded college and one of the oldest institutions of higher learning dedicated to preparing students for careers in art, architecture and engineering located in New York City.

Alabama State University: Entertainer and Best-selling Author Steve Harvey

Steve Harvey
Steve Harvey
Date: Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.
Venue: Dunn-Oliver Acadome

Steve Harvey, nationally acclaimed star of television, radio and film, best-selling author and entrepreneur, will deliver the keynote address at Alabama State University's 293rd Spring Commencement Exercises. The commencement address is a continuation of the partnership that Harvey recently announced between himself and ASU during a special event on April 2. Harvey joined Boyd and Board of Trustees Chairman Locy Baker at The ASU Stadium to announce that he is partnering with the University to sponsor its historic Turkey Day Classic football game.

Delaware State University: Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr.
Date: Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.
Venue: Alumni Stadium

Vice President Joseph R. Biden, Jr., will deliver remarks at the Spring 2016 DSU Commencement Ceremony, during which time the University will launch its celebration of its 125th anniversary as an institution of higher education. Mr. Biden will be the first American vice president to speak at a DSU Commencement Ceremony, and it is projected that during the Commencement, Vice President Biden will give his keynote address to approximately 700 graduates. Biden represented Delaware for 36 years in the U.S. Senate before becoming the 47th and current Vice President of the United States.

Howard University: President, Barack H. Obama

President Barack Obama
President Barack Obama
Date: Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m.
Venue: Upper Quadrangle (main campus)

President Barack H. Obama will address members of the Class of 2016 and their families, University trustees, officers, faculty, staff, and alumni. Howard University will confer upon the President an honorary degree, Doctor of Laws, the University’s highest honor. President Obama is the sixth sitting U.S. President to deliver the keynote address at a Howard University commencement. Other distinguished leaders who will join the president in receiving honorary degrees this year include L.D. Britt, M.D., MPH; Ambassador Horace Greeley Dawson Jr.; and Ms. Cicely Tyson.

On commencement day, Howard University will award more than 1,300 Bachelor’s Degrees, more than 300 Master’s Degrees, and more than 100 Ph.Ds, with the top five areas of concentration in Psychology, History, Political Science, Social Work, and Mathematics. Additionally, more than 400 students will receive professional degrees in Law, Medicine, Pharmacy and Dentistry.

Tuskegee University: Entertainment Mogul Tyler Perry

Entertainment Mogul Tyler Perry
Tyler Perry
Date: Saturday, May 7, 10 a.m. (CST)
Venue: Daniel Chappie James Center

Tyler Perry will bring his message of inspiration and encouragement to the newest class of Tuskegee University graduates. The Actor, producer, director, screenwriter, playwright, author, songwriter will give the keynote address approximately 500-plus graduates at the 2016 Spring Commencement Exercise. Perry is the latest in a succession of notable figures in the arts and entertainment industry that have been invited to enlighten the university community and follows First Lady Michelle Obama, who addressed graduates last spring. In 2015, actress and director Phylicia Rashad was the speaker for the Summer Commencement Exercises.

Cheyney University: Actress/singer, Author, Activist and Motivational Speaker Sheryl Lee Ralph

Sheryl Lee Ralph
Sheryl Lee Ralph
Date: Saturday, May 7, 11 a.m.
Venue: Cheyney University Quadrangle

Sheryl Lee Ralph, the original DREAMGIRL, has worked in film, television, and on Broadway. She originated and created the role of Deena Jones on Broadway in the landmark musical Dreamgirls, which earned her a Tony Award Nomination and a Drama Desk Award Nomination for Best Actress. She has shined as the loving step mom, Dee, on the hit series Moesha, as the transsexual, Clare, in the SHOWTIME series, Barbershop, and in the NBC hit series ER. A passionate AIDS activist, Ralph is the producer and creator of the critically acclaimed DIVAS Simply Singing!, the longest consecutive running musical AIDS benefit in the US. Ralph is also the founding director of the DIVA (Divinely Inspired Victoriously Anointed) Foundation 501(C)3 which she created in memory of the many friends she had lost to HIV/AIDS.

Bethune-Cookman University: Political Strategist Donna Brazile

Donna Brazile
Donna Brazile
Date: Saturday, May 7, 12 p.m.
Venue: The Ocean Center Daytona Beach

Veteran Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile is well-known for her passion for inspiring young political influencers, will serve as the keynote speaker for Bethune-Cookman University’s upcoming commencement ceremony. Throughout her career, Brazile has lectured at more than 150 colleges and universities across the country. She is currently an adjunct professor at Georgetown University, a syndicated newspaper columnist for Universal Uclick, a columnist for Ms. Magazine, and O, The Oprah Maga ine, an on-air contributor to CNN, and ABC, where she regularly appears on the Sunday morning show This Week.

Hampton University: Author and Political Analyst Dr. Michael Eric Dyson

Dr. Michael Eric Dyson
Dr. Michael Eric Dyson
Date: Sunday, May 8, 10 a.m.
Venue: Armstrong Stadium

Named by Essence magazine as one of the 50 most inspiring African Americans in the U.S., Dr. Michael Eric Dyson will serve as the Hampton University’s 146th Commencement speaker. Dyson is one of the nation's most renowned public intellectuals, and he has revitalized the title with the fervor of an ordained Baptist minister. Called “a street fighter in a suit and tie,” he takes on the toughest and most controversial issues of the day, including race, politics and pop culture, with his fearless and fiery rhetoric.

North Carolina Central University: U.S. Sen. Cory Booker

U.S. Sen. Cory Booker
Cory Booker
Date: Saturday, May 14, 8 a.m.
Venue: O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium

North Carolina A&T State University: U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx

Anthony Foxx
Anthony Foxx
Date: Saturday, May 14, 8:30 a.m.
Venue: Greensboro Coliseum

U.S. Secretary of Transportation Anthony Foxx is slated to deliver the spring 2016 commencement address for North Carolina A&T State University. The Charlotte, North Carolina native was sworn in as the 17th U.S. Secretary of Transportation on July 2, 2013. Foxx leads more than 55,000 employees in air, maritime and surface transportation with a budget exceeding $70 billion. Since Foxx’s appointment he has systematically shifted the focus of the department toward the future needs of the country’s overall transportation efforts and infrastructure.

Florida Memorial University: Deputy Director, for the White House Initiative on HBCUs Dr. Ivory A. Toldson

Ivory A. Toldson
Dr. Ivory A. Toldson
Date: Saturday, May 14, 8:30 a.m.
Venue: New Multipurpose Arena and Wellness Center

Dr. Ivory A. Toldson, Deputy Director, for the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities with address the Spring 2016 graduates at Florida Memorial University's 137th Commencement Ceremony. Before this role, Dr. Toldson served as an associate professor at Howard University, senior research analyst for the Congressional Black Caucus Foundation, and editor-in-chief of The Journal of Negro Education. He was also contributing education editor for The Root, where he debunked some of the most pervasive myths about African-Americans in his Show Me the Numbers column.

Johnson C. Smith University: Global Media Entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey

Oprah Winfrey
Oprah Winfrey
Date: Sunday, May 15, 8 a.m.
Venue: Irwin Belk Complex

Global media entrepreneur Oprah Winfrey will be the keynote speaker at Johnson C. Smith University’s 149th Commencement Exercises. The University will also confer upon Winfrey an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. When the ‘First Lady of Talk Shows’ addresses JCSU’s 330 graduates, her words will bear special import to two faces in the crowd, whose lives she has personally transformed. Noluthando “Thando” Dlomo and Nompumelelo “Mpumi” Nobiva are graduates of the Oprah Winfrey Leadership Academy for Girls in South Africa, which Winfrey established in 2007 and invested more than $40 million to educate students in grades seven through 12.

Spelman College: U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch

Loretta Lynch
U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch
Date: Sunday, May 15, 3 p.m.
Venue: Georgia International Convention Center

U.S. Attorney General Loretta E. Lynch, America’s top law enforcement officer and the first African-American woman to be confirmed as attorney general of the United States, has forged an impressive legal career in private practice and as a federal prosecutor. Lynch will share her inspiring story and words of wisdom with 483 graduates of the Spelman College class of 2016 during her Commencement address. She will receive an honorary degree at the ceremony. A native of Greensboro, North Carolina, Lynch is the 83rd attorney general. She was nominated by President Barack Obama in 2014 and confirmed by the U.S. Senate in April 2015.

Morehouse College: Zimbabwe’s First Billionaire Strive Masiyiwa

Strive Masiyiwa
Strive Masiyiwa
Date: Saturday, May 16, 3 p.m.
Venue: Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel

Strive Masiyiwa, one of Africa’s most influential businessmen and Zimbabwe’s first billionaire, will address the Morehouse College class of 2016 during the 132nd Commencement exercises. It will be an extra special day for Masiyiwa, the founder of the global telecommunications firm, Econet Wireless. The first nine Andrew Young International Scholars, all whom came from African orphanages and were sponsored by Masiyiwa’s Higher Life Foundation, will be among those receiving their degrees that day. One of them will be 2016 International Rhodes Scholar Prince Abudu from Zimbabwe.

That was just a sample of the notable spring commencement speakers whose speeches we are looking forward to hearing. Do you know of a speaker that is missing from this list? Send them to us on our contact page and we'll update the list.

Comments are closed.

Scroll to Top