Today, I woke-up a little earlier than most Sundays. Today was the 165th Commencement Ceremony for the University of Notre Dame. As you may know, last year’s ceremony was marked with controversy because President Barack Obama, our country’s first African American president, was the commencement speaker; he also received an honorary doctorate degree. To say that I, as a Black Alumnus of the university, was proud of Notre Dame’s selection would be an understatement. I was overjoyed and felt the same pride and excitement I felt on election night and Inauguration Day. No words can come close to describing the pride I felt on both occasions; I still feel like I am dreaming every time I see Obama speaking on t.v.-something I thought I would never see in this country. In all honesty, up until last year I had only watched one Notre Dame Commencement on t.v.-I didn’t even go to my own graduation. I did, however, attend the African American Graduation Ceremony.
So the 2010 graduation season rolls around, with much less fanfare until the university announces the valedictorian: Ms. Katie Odette Washington. If the first name alluded you, the last name should have made reason behind the excitement crystal-clear. No? How about the fact that she hails from Gary, IN? Yes, Notre Dame graduates its first-ever African American valedictorian! And she is my ‘homegirl.’ That is, she and I are both from Indiana. Katie is graduating with a 4.0 GPA and will be attending John Hopkins University in the fall to pursue a joint M.D./Ph.D. program. Wow! Take that, Harvard, Yale, and Princeton!
To say that Katie has made her parents, family members, friends, classmates, and the Black Alumni of Notre Dame proud would another understatement. I think this historic achievement reaches beyond the ND campus and community. Katie’s accomplishments will definitely change the way Black children view education, not just making the decision to attend college, but changing the things they do to get there; ‘there’ can just as easily be Notre Dame or some other ‘there’ they had never considered. I hope pray that they accept that there are no limits, regardless of what friends, family members, teachers, and others say. Even if you are from Gary, IN, Detroit, MI, or New Orleans, LA.
Congratulations Katie and the Notre Dame Class of 2010! Oh yeah, congratulations to NBC Nightly News anchor Brian Williams on his honorary doctorate-his first college degree. Williams was the principal speaker at this year’s ceremony and did an excellent job, considering his predecessor. We are proud to count you as one of ‘us’ now Brian!