Leaders, Celebrities Speaking at UNCF-Member HBCU Commencements

UNCF congratulates the Class of 2017!


Featured 2017 Commencement Speakers at UNCF-Member Institutions                            

May 1

Fisk University: Speaker Nancy Pelosi
Nancy Pelosi is the Democratic Leader of the U.S. House of Representatives for the 114th Congress. From 2007 to 2011, Pelosi served as Speaker of the House, the first woman to do so in American history. In 2013, she was inducted into the National Women’s Hall of Fame at a ceremony in Seneca Falls, the birthplace of the American women’s rights movement. 


May 6

Voorhees College: Jasmine Guy
Actress-dancer-director Jasmine Guy has enjoyed a diverse career in television, theatre and film. She began her professional career at the Alvin Ailey American Dance Theater in New York City at the age of 17. After years on Broadway and touring the globe, Jasmine landed the role of Whitley Gilbert on the Cosby Show spin-off A Different World. She won six consecutive NAACP Image Awards for her portrayal of the pretentious but funny southern belle. As a frequent motivational public speaker, Jasmine is called upon to share her story openly with those who may benefit from her trials and triumphs. Her continuing desire to blend balance and discipline with ambition and service continues to fuel her passion for the arts.

Bennett College: Congresswoman Alma S. Adams
Dr. Alma S. Adams was elected to her second term representing the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina in 2016. After winning a special election in November 2014, Congresswoman Adams was sworn in immediately as the 100th woman elected to Congress. Throughout her career, Rep. Adams has promoted quality education for all students, spearheading legislation to boost funds for Historically Black Colleges and Universities, providing nutritious breakfasts in schools and supporting increased pay for teachers. For 40 years, Dr. Adams taught Art History at Bennett College, where she led the effort to increase student civic participation, coining the phrase “Bennett Belles are Voting Belles” and organizing annual marches to the polls. As a former educator, Rep. Adams has dedicated her career to improving the lives of young people and her community.

Allen University: U.S. Sen. Tim Scott
Senator Scott of South Carolina, was sworn in to the U.S. Senate in January 2013. He has launched his Opportunity Agenda, a new way forward including robust initiatives that gives students and workers the greatest chance to succeed. Scott knows that success is created in studio apartments and garages, at kitchen tables, and in classrooms across the nation - not in government conference rooms in Washington.

May 7

Stillman College: Mayor Walter Maddox
On November 4, 2013, Walter Maddox was sworn in for his third term as Tuscaloosa’s 36th Mayor. Since his first inauguration, Mayor Maddox has led initiatives to increase economic development, improve customer service with the implementation of Tuscaloosa 311 and provide quality pre-k education for academically at-risk four-year old children. Maddox has been nationally recognized for his crisis management, and currently serves as a fellow with the Program on Crisis Leadership at Harvard University’s Kennedy School of Government.  


May 13

Benedict College: Dr. David H. Swinton
Dr. Swinton, Benedict College’s longest-serving president, will receive an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree and will give the keynote address during the College’s 147th Commencement Exercises. David Holmes Swinton is a distinguished educator, well-respected economist and a community leader. Born in New Haven, Connecticut, Swinton moved to Timmonsville, SC with his family as a young child. His stellar career in economics, community development, and education began with dedicated study and academic preparation. After graduating from New York University with a Bachelor’s degree in Economics, he was awarded a Master of Arts degree and a Doctor of Philosophy degree in Economics from Harvard University. Under his tenure, the College has received seven national academic accreditations for its schools and programs. 

Clafin University: Dr. Eddie S. Glaude Jr.
Eddie S. Glaude Jr. is the chair of the Center for African American Studies and the William S. Tod Professor of Religion and African American Studies at Princeton University. He is the author of "Exodus! Religion, Race, and Nation in Early 19th Century Black America",  "In a Shade of Blue: Pragmatism and the Politics of Black America," and editor of "Is it Nation Time? Contemporary Essays on Black Power and Black Nationalism." Glaude co-edited “African American Religious Thought: An Anthology,” with Cornel West.

Dillard University: Janelle Monáe
Janelle Monáe is a recording artist, actress, and model signed to her own imprint, Wondaland Arts Society, and Atlantic Records. Monáe's music has garnered her six Grammy® Award nominations. She starred in two critically acclaimed movies this past year, Moonlight and Hidden Figures.

LeMoyne-Owen College: Dr. Willie W. Herenton
Dr. Willie W. Herenton was the first African American mayor of Memphis, Tennessee, serving 1992–2009. Dr. Herenton is a graduate of LeMoyne-Owen College in Memphis and the University of Memphis. When he was 28, Herenton was appointed principal of the school he attended as a child; the youngest principal ever hired in Memphis. Three years later, he completed a Ph.D. degree at Southern Illinois University. In 1979, Herenton was named superintendent of the Memphis Public Schools, the fifteenth largest school system in the United States, and one of the poorest. Earlier this year, Dr. Herenton unveiled his new plan, Gideon 300 for the New Path Movement, designed to mobilize 10,000 African American men to mentor young black males in the metropolitan area.

Tuskegee University: John Skipper
John Skipper is CEO of ESPN. Since taking the helm as ESPN President and Co-Chairman, Disney Media Networks  in 2012, Skipper has secured ESPN’s leadership position in the crowded sports media landscape into the next decade, with bold moves and a commitment to championship events delivered across every available platform. In his 14 years with the company prior to becoming President, Skipper was a key architect of ESPN’s explosive growth. He played leadership roles overseeing the company’s television, digital, print and advertising sales initiatives, as well as ESPN’s focus on brand extensions, bringing the company’s “best available screen” philosophy to life across more platforms and with more wide-ranging major rights agreements than at any time since ESPN’s launch in 1979.

Virginia Union University: Gov. Terry McAuliffe
Terry McAuliffe is the 72nd Governor of Virginia. Since being sworn into office, Gov. McAuliffe has aggressively focused on building a new Virginia economy. McAuliffe previously served as Chairman of the Democratic National Committee from 2001 to 2005, was co-chairman of President Bill Clinton's 1996 re-election campaign, and was chairman of Hillary Clinton's 2008 presidential campaign. McAuliffe has spoken extensively on workforce development, with education proposals being funded through savings from the proposed Medicaid expansion. McAuliffe supports the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare. 

Xavier University of Louisiana: U.S. Rep. Cedric Richmond
Congressman Cedric Richmond represents Louisiana’s second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives. Richmond currently serves on the House Committee on Homeland Security and the House Committee on the Judiciary. In 2016, he was elected chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus. As a member of the Committee on Homeland Security, Cedric works to ensure New Orleans and surrounding communities are adequately prepared for any emergency through oversight of the Federal Emergency Management Association (FEMA). He also works to ensure the security of the nation’s critical infrastructure, borders, and ports. He earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College in Atlanta, GA, and his J.D. from the Tulane University School of Law in New Orleans. Richmond is also a graduate of the Harvard University Executive Education Program at the John F. Kennedy School of Government.

Shaw University: Tom Joyner
Tom Joyner, aka “The Fly Jock” and “The Hardest Working Man in Radio,” is an American radio host, host of the nationally syndicated The Tom Joyner Morning Show, and also founder of Reach Media Inc.; the Tom Joyner Foundation, and BlackAmericaWeb.com. The Foundation has raised more than $60 million to help keep students in historically black colleges and universities. The Foundation, just like the morning show, his website, events and his other endeavors, exists to “super serve” the African American community. Joyner graduated from Tuskegee Institute in 1970.

Oakwood University: Dr. Leon Wilson
Dr. Leon C. Wilson is interim provost and vice president for academic affairs at Alabama State University in Montgomery. Dr. Wilson is a graduate of the University of the Southern Caribbean on the island of Trinidad. He holds a master’s degree in religion and counseling from Andrews University in Berrien Springs, Michigan, and a second master’s degree and a Ph.D. in sociology from the University of Michigan.


May 21

Morehouse College: Van Jones
Van Jones is a CNN political contributor, regularly appearing across the network’s programming and special political coverage. Jones has founded and led numerous social enterprises engaged in social and environmental justice. The Yale-educated attorney is the author of two New York Times best-selling books, The Green Collar Economy  and Rebuild the Dream. The second book chronicles his journey as an environmental and human rights activist to becoming a White House policy advisor.

Spelman College: Valerie Jarrett
Valerie Jarrett, the longest-serving senior adviser to President Barack Obama, has had a consequential impact across the American political, civic and business landscape. Prior to joining the Obama administration, she was co-chair of the Obama-Biden Presidential Transition Team and held leadership positions for The Habitat Company, Chicago’s Transit Board and Department of Planning and Development, Chicago Mayor Richard M. Daley’s administration, the Chicago Stock Exchange, the University of Chicago Medical Center Board of Trustees and the Federal Reserve Bank of Chicago. Jarrett earned her bachelor’s degree in psychology from Stanford University and Juris Doctor from University of Michigan Law School.


May 22

Clark Atlanta University: William F. Pickard, Ph.D
William F. Pickard, Ph.D. is CEO of Regal Plastics Company (manufacturer of plastic parts for automotive and other industries) and owner/operator of multiple McDonald's restaurant franchises. Dr. Pickard also serves as CEO and Chairman of the Board of a number of enterprises including VITEC LLC, Global Automotive Alliance LLC, Grupo Antolin-Wayne, ARD Logistics, LLC and Commonwealth Regal Industries. He is also an Adjunct Professor at the University of Michigan Business School. Dr. Pickard has 30 years' experience as an entrepreneur, focusing on business development, team building and long-term strategic planning in his various enterprises.