“I’m now a Tiger!”
Vice President Kamala Harris cheered as she received an honorary doctorate degree in humane letters from Tennessee State University after addressing nearly 600 undergraduates at the Spring 2022 commencement ceremony.
Harris was hooded by TSU President Dr. Glenda Glover as the crowd looked on, including university trustees, cabinet members and mayors John Cooper of Nashville and Randall Woodfin of Birmingham, Ala.
The historic moment took place Saturday at TSU’s Hale Stadium shortly after Harris addressed the graduates with a heartfelt commencement speech, marking this as her first address at a university and HBCU as vice president of the United States.
Graduate Matthew Benton, who now has a degree in business administration, said that the historic event was as inspirational as he imagined.
“I’m thankful to have had a university president like Dr. Glover with the right connections and friendships to bring Kamala Harris, the vice president of the United States, to our campus to give the keynote address.”
As a fellow HBCU graduate of Howard University, Harris gave the students a chance to mirror the person they can one day become.
The vice president celebrated the 2022 graduates’ through their trials, mentioning the challenges of obtaining a degree through the COVID-19 pandemic, fundamental principles, and racial inequalities.
Harris stated that the graduates are more than just a class of 2022 but graduates that the United States needs in the near future.
“I look at this unsettled world, and yes I see the challenges, but I am here to tell you, I also see the opportunities—the opportunities for your leadership. The future of our country and our world will be shaped by you.”
The dark skies looming over Hale stadium didn’t stop Harris’ words of encouragement to shine through as she spoke value to more than 1,000 attendees.
“You are fueled by self-determination,” she said. “Students from all over the world come here because they have big dreams.”
About 15-minutes into her speech, Harris’ shared a story regarding the first time she flew on the vice-presidential helicopter.
She looked out the window as the helicopter circled over her alma-mater and saw her 17-year-old self again toting books around campus.
“At a place just like this,” she said. “That reinforced that I can be anything. Do anything. Even if it had never been done before.” The crowd cheered. “Like you, and full of hope and full of dreams with a future full of possibility, I stand before you today as the vice president of America and as a proud graduate of an HBCU to say, there is no limit to your capacity of greatness.”
Harris reassured the graduates who will embark on a new journey, that their time at TSU has unlocked unimaginable opportunities.
“There is no barrier you cannot break,” she said, noting that the graduate’s perspective and experience will make the United States a stronger country. She mentioned that there will be a time that the graduates will walk into a room where no one else may look like them.
“And at that moment you must remember, you are not in that room alone. Always know that you carried the voices of everyone here and those upon the shoulders you stand,” Harris told the students.
A little piece of advice to the graduates from Harris: “Be true to yourself.”
Graduate Derrick Sanders, Jr., who now has a Bachelor’s of Arts degree in English, said that Harris telling the students to live in the moment, is what resonated with him most.
“To know now that she will forever be a part of my TSU history, and to be inducted as an official member of the Tiger Family was a tremendous honor to witness.”
As Harris is the first woman, and first person of color as vice president of the United States, she closed out her commencement speech with a phrase her late-mother always told her.
“‘Kamala, you may be the first to do many things,’” the vice president said. “‘Make sure you are not the last.’ “I have been many firsts in my lifetime and as I look out at all of you today, I know I will not be the last.
“Your country is so proud of you. May God bless you and may God bless America.”