MBAs Speak at Harvard’s First ‘Black Commencement’

HBS MBAs among the speakers at an additonal commencement ceremony celebrating the achievements of black students from across Harvard’s graduate schools

Two Harvard Business School (HBS) MBAs spoke at Harvard’s very first commencement (graduation) ceremony solely for black students.

The ceremony, which drew plenty of attention when it was first announced at the start of this month, celebrated the achievements of students from across Harvard’s graduate schools, including HBS. ‘Black Commencement’ was organized by the Harvard Black Graduate Student Alliance and came two days ahead of Thursday’s university-wide commencement.

“We are only a fraction of the black brilliance that lies under the surface” says commencement speaker

Duwain Pinder, who has been combining an MBA from Harvard Business School with a public policy degree (MPP) from the Kennedy School spoke poignantly about race relations in the US, referring to the killing of Michael Brown in Ferguson, Missouri in August 2014.  

“Three weeks before my first day at Harvard, I learned of the murder of Michael Brown. Months later, I listened as my professor struggled to explain the public policy that allowed his murderer to walk free and the overwhelming question during this first year at Harvard was how I could survive in a world that seems not to value my life,” said Pinder.

Now set to graduate with not one, but two prestigious degrees, from Harvard Business School and the Kennedy School, Pinder also turned his attention to those who hold up the achievements of a few as, “proof that the American dream exists for all rather than just a select few,” saying, “we know better….we are only a fraction of the black brilliance that lies under the surface.”

Call to arms from Harvard Business School MBA

Terrance Rogers, who is graduating from Harvard Business School’s full-time MBA class of 2017, focused on economic uncertainty in his address at the event and told the story of when his mother had learned that a job she had held for 20 years was to be outsourced. 

“The first thing I noticed was the shame and brokenness in my mother eyes…This was my first exposure to capitalism. It was not my friend,” Rogers said. The soon-to-be MBA graduate called on those in attendance to put out the fires of economic uncertainty: “Let’s pick up a bucket of water and get to work.”

Black Commencement was given official approval by Harvard University, yet had attracted accusations of segregation from some quarters. The actual event, however, was reportedly nothing of the sort, according to Harvard Magazine, a nonprofit affiliate of the university: “Today’s attendees, friends and family members of all races, watched as students received their stoles, an occasion to reflect on the uniqueness of the black student experience.” 

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Written by Tim Dhoul

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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