Due to the COVID-19 outbreak, most academic institutions have had to cancel or postpone their graduation ceremonies. But Paul Quinn College (PQC) president Dr. Michael Sorrell came up with an idea for a virtual commencement ceremony, which has come together through partnerships to have more than 27,000 graduating students from 78 Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) participating.
The two-hour event will be hosted by Kevin Hart and have a special message from former President Barack Obama. It will also have appearances from Steve Harvey, Dallas Mavericks CEO Cynt Marshall, National Urban League president Marc Morial, NBA player Chris Paul, along with academic leaders from participating HBCUs, according to a statement.
The event titled “Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition” is being presented by JPMorgan Chase through its Advancing Black Pathways initiative, which was formed to help black communities close historic achievement gaps in wealth creation, educational outcomes, and career success. Essence will be the ceremony’s live streaming partner.
Howard University, The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education, Thurgood Marshall College Fund, United Negro College Fund, and the NBA also helped organize the event.
The ceremony will take place on May 16 at 1 p.m. CST. It will feature musical performances from Anthony Hamilton, Wyclef Jean, and others as well as a drumline mash-up with Doug E. Fresh. If you’d like to join in on the event, it will be livestreamed on Chase’s YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn as well as through HBCU Connect’s Facebook and Essence Studios.
Other Texas HBCUs including Huston-Tillotson University, Jarvis Christian College, Prairie View A&M University, Texas College, and Wiley College will be participating in the ceremony.
Along with the main event, an after party will also be happening on Saturday night as well as a virtual cookout on Sunday, which will be hosted on All Def’s Facebook page.
Coming together virtually
Sorrell told Dallas Innovates he initially didn’t completely understand the pain and disappointment PQC students were experiencing since, while they couldn’t have a physical graduation ceremony due to the pandemic, they were still receiving degrees. After hearing from his graduating students, Sorrell realized there was a deeper meaning to them behind the graduation ceremony.
“For many of our students and their families, this represents the culmination of something that has never been accomplished however long they’ve been in the United States,” Sorrell says. “And they’re not having the visual recognition of that.”
He realized if his students felt this way, it must be happening at other colleges and universities around the country, too. So, he reached out to Thasunda Brown Duckett, JPMorgan Chase Consumer Banking’s CEO, about his idea for the ceremony. From there, they built a coalition to create the event in around just six weeks.
“We had to get people from established organizations to function as entrepreneurs in a short period of time,” Sorrell says.
Despite the quick turnaround, he was able to pull together the event through partnerships so that more than 27,000 students will be able to have a graduation ceremony.
“I am so grateful that this coalition of partners stepped up to answer the call of the HBCU community and stand in the gap for our students and their families,” Sorrell said in a statement.
Sorrell, who is one of our 50 North Texas innovators and disruptors in the Dallas Innovates 2020 magazine, is the longest-serving president in PQC’s history and a member of the ABP Advisory Council.
Last year, PQC partnered with JPMorgan Chase to bring more than 20 students into the bank’s fold. The college also has a solar grid project with GridMarket, EarthX, and Environ Partners set to make renewable energy a reality at the college.
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