‘This is a mag­i­cal place’

Howard alum Chad­wick Bose­man thrills grad­u­at­ing class

The Washington Post Sunday - - FRONT PAGE - BY SARAH LARIMER

Ac­tor Chad­wick Bose­man, star of the box of­fice smash “Black Pan­ther,” re­turned to his alma mater Howard Univer­sity on Satur­day to urge its new­est grad­u­ates to find pur­pose in their lives and per­se­vere, even amid ad­ver­sity.

“I don’t know what your fu­ture is,” said Bose­man, who de­liv­ered the main ad­dress at the univer­sity’s 150th com­mence­ment. “But if you’re will­ing to take the harder way, the more com­pli­cated one, the one with more fail­ures at

Chad­wick Bose­man im­plored grad­u­ates of his alma mater to find their pur­pose, which he said “is the rea­son you are on the planet at this par­tic­u­lar time in his­tory.”

first than suc­cesses . . . then you will not re­gret it.”

Bose­man, who grad­u­ated from Howard in 2000, spoke to hun­dreds of newly minted grad­u­ates and their loved ones, who had gath­ered on its iconic Yard to cel­e­brate and con­sider their fu­ture.

“Pur­pose is the es­sen­tial el­e­ment of you,” Bose­man told the grad­u­ates. “It is the rea­son you are on the planet at this par­tic­u­lar time in his­tory. Your very ex­is­tence is wrapped up in the things you are here to ful­fill.

“What­ever you choose for a ca­reer path, re­mem­ber the strug­gles along the way are only meant to shape you for your pur­pose,” he said. Jade Agu­dosi, pres­i­dent of the Howard Univer­sity Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion, 2017-2018

The cer­e­mony capped off a tur­bu­lent aca­demic year at Howard, the his­toric pri­vate univer­sity in North­west Washington that is known as “the Mecca” of black ed­u­ca­tion.

In Septem­ber, for­mer FBI di­rec­tor James B. Comey was jeered through­out an ad­dress at the univer­sity, bom­barded by chants of “Get out, James Comey! You’re not our homie!” In late March, stu­dents be­gan an oc­cu­pa­tion of the school’s ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing, a demon­stra­tion that would stretch into early April.

A bru­tal winter bat­tered the cam­pus. A scan­dal un­folded in the school’s fi­nan­cial aid of­fice. A crit­i­cal email from the school’s pres­i­dent about a wor­ried stu­dent’s “tone and tenor” caught fire on so­cial me­dia.

“Howard has gone through a lot of ebbs and flows,” Jade Agu­dosi, who served as pres­i­dent of the Howard Univer­sity Stu­dent As­so­ci­a­tion this aca­demic year, said in an in­ter­view be­fore the cer­e­mony. “Through the year, we’ve shown our re­silience.”

On this bright Satur­day, though, there was joy on Howard’s cam­pus. And Bose­man re­called his fond mem­o­ries at the in­sti­tu­tion, in­clud­ing his own ex­pe­ri­ences with stu­dent ac­tivism.

“This is a mag­i­cal place,” he said. “A place where the dy­nam­ics of pos­i­tive and neg­a­tive seem to ex­ist in ex­tremes.”

Bose­man told the crowd of a time in his act­ing ca­reer when he was cast in a role but found him­self con­flicted about the char­ac­ter he was sup­posed to por­tray. He felt the role seemed to be wrapped in as­sump­tions about the black com­mu­nity, and he raised the is­sue with ex­ec­u­tives on the show.

He said he was let go from the job soon af­ter.

“As con­flicted as I was be­fore I lost the job, as adamant as I was about the need to speak truth to power, I found my­self even more con­flicted af­ter­ward,” he said.

He said his Howard ed­u­ca­tion had pre­pared him for roles that have in­cluded Jackie Robinson, Thur­good Mar­shall and T’Challa, the su­per­hero’s real name in “Black Pan­ther.”

“But what do you do when the prin­ci­ples and stan­dards that were in­stilled in you here at Howard close the doors in front of you?” Bose­man said. “Some­times you need to get knocked down be­fore you can re­ally fig­ure out what your fight is.”

Bose­man also took note of the re­cent stu­dent protest at Howard, which had gained na­tional at­ten­tion this spring. For eight days, Howard stu­dents oc­cu­pied the ad­min­is­tra­tion build­ing to force univer­sity of­fi­cials to ad­dress a list of sim­mer­ing griev­ances, from cam­pus hous­ing to tuition in­creases. They hung a ban­ner that read “Stu­dent Power” and trans­formed the build­ing into a makeshift en­camp­ment as they ne­go­ti­ated with univer­sity rep­re­sen­ta­tives.

Among their de­mands was the res­ig­na­tion of Howard’s pres­i­dent, Wayne A.I. Frederick. But he ap­peared with stu­dent lead­ers at a news con­fer­ence that marked the oc­cu­pa­tion’s end, and a mem­ber of the school’s Board of Trus­tees said he had the board’s “un­equiv­o­cal and un­wa­ver­ing sup­port.”

Bose­man, who said he also took part in stu­dent protest at Howard, praised both the demon­stra­tors and mem­bers of the ad­min­is­tra­tion who lis­tened to their con­cerns.

“I didn’t come here to take sides,” he said. “My in­ter­est is what’s best for the school.”

As he con­cluded his re­marks, Bose­man told the grad­u­ates that their univer­sity’s legacy was not wrapped up in the money its grad­u­ates will make, but rather the chal­lenges they will choose to con­front.

“Press on with pride and press on with pur­pose,” he said. “God bless you, I love you, Howard. Howard for­ever.”

Howard awarded more than 2,000 de­grees in 2018, ac­cord­ing to the school. In­cluded among the grad­u­ates was Charles W. An­der­son, who at age 73 was the old­est mem­ber of Howard’s 2018 class this spring. An­der­son, a fa­ther of four, earned a de­gree from the masters pro­gram at Howard’s School of Di­vin­ity.

“I just love to study and learn,” An­der­son said. “I don’t care how old you get, you can just learn so many dif­fer­ent things.”

Di­ploma re­cip­i­ents also in­cluded Agu­dosi, the out­go­ing stu­dent leader, who said Fri­day that she would be grad­u­at­ing with hon­ors.

“Howard has made me a bet­ter woman,” she said. “Howard has made me a bet­ter leader. Howard has made me a bet­ter friend. I’m so in­debted to Howard Univer­sity, and all that she’s done to take this lit­tle girl from the sub­urbs of New Jersey and turn her into a woman that hope­fully will take over the world.”

“Through the year, we’ve shown our re­silience.”

BILL O’LEARY/THE WASHINGTON POST

CLOCK­WISE FROM TOP: A grad­u­ate wears a dec­o­rated mor­tar­board at Howard Univer­sity’s com­mence­ment cer­e­monies on Satur­day in North­west Washington. The main speaker, ac­tor Chad­wick Bose­man, star of the block­buster film “Black Pan­ther,” gives a Wakanda salute to the crowd. Bose­man said his Howard ed­u­ca­tion had pre­pared him for roles that have in­cluded Jackie Robinson and Thur­good Mar­shall. Med­i­cal stu­dents wave as they en­ter the cer­e­mony. Ellen Peo­ples, dressed in her best, takes a photo.

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