Rise Up: Pearls of Power From Black America for Class of 2016

Howard University 148th Commencement Convocation
On Saturday, May 7 at Howard University Upper Quandrangle University Campus, graduates celebrate, at the 148th Commencement Convocation.Cheriss May / NurPhoto via Getty Images

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By Mia Hall

The commencement speeches of 2016 provided powerful points of inspiration for everyone. From President Obama telling Howard graduates to be confident in their Blackness, to Michelle Obama reminding City College students that she wakes up every morning in a house built by slaves, graduates have received words of wisdom and tools they can take with them as they continue on to the next step on their journey of life.

Here are 13 major keys commencement speakers dropped to the class of 2016.

1. Rock the Vote

Michelle Obama, First Lady

Jackson State University

“So, graduates, as you seek to develop your own strategies to address the problems that still plague our communities, I just ask you to remember that the power of voting is real and lasting. So you can hashtag all over Instagram and Twitter, but those social media movements will disappear faster than a Snapchat if you’re not also registered to vote, if you’re not also sending in your absentee ballot.”

2. Execute Your Plan A

Terrence J, Host, Producer

Dillard University

“Execute your plan A. Will Smith said, ‘It's no such thing as a Plan B, it only distracts you from Plan A.’ I’ll never go back to a Plan B....There will be a million and one reasons why you should play it safe, why you should fall back on your Plan B. But this is your life. This is your opportunity. You, here today is a fresh start. You don’t have to settle for mediocrity.”

3. Don’t Let Anyone Define Your Passion

Condelezza Rice, 66th U.S. Secretary of State, Political Scientist

High Point University

“When you find your passion, it’s yours. Not what someone else thinks it should be. There’s no earthly reason that a Black girl from Birmingham, Alabama should be a Soviet specialist. But that’s what I wanted to be. Don’t let anyone else define your passion for you because of your gender or the color of your skin.”

4. Show Up

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr. delivers the commencement speech at Alcorn State University May 7, 2016.Alcorn State University

Johnny C. Taylor, Jr., Lawyer, Author and Public Speaker

Alcorn State

"I find myself talking about our historical leaders and the historical significance of HBCUs. A reporter said, in the words of Janet Jackson, 'What have you done for us lately?' YOU make the case for why HBCUs are currently relevant. That is the challenge for us today. When you graduate and go into the workplace, the number one thing you can do for Alcorn State and HBCUs is show up. You have to show them that means something. I won’t have to make the case later that HBCUs matter if we can point to very successful alums not 30 years from now but tomorrow."

5. Don't Be Afraid to Make Mistakes

Oprah Winfrey, Media Mogul

Johnson C. Smith University

"Every stumble is not a fall and every fall is not a failure. You make mistakes because failure is God's way of moving you in another direction. It's saying (you are) going down the wrong lane."

6. Don't Just Be Successful, Be Great

Steve Harvey, Entertainer, Philanthropist, Host

Alabama State University

"Behind every moment of adversity, every single moment of adversity, two things are going to happen. There’s going to be a lesson, and there’s going to be a blessing. You’ve got to wait on both of them. If you let the adversity crumble you, if you focus on the adversity, you will later wallow in the fact that you have failed, cause failure’s coming. Cause life is 10 percent what happened to you. It’s 90 percent what you do about it."

7. Raise Your Consciousness

Lynn Whitfield, Award-Winning Actress

University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff

“When you have a rise of consciousness it means that you are elevated above the circumstance. You are looking down and you have an aerial view of the circumstances and what does that do? You can see the roadblocks and you can see the open road. When you rise above your not at the level of the obstacle of the problem. It has nothing to do with where you're going and what you're doing because it’s down there and you're above it.”

8. Seize the Time

Spike Lee delivers the 2016 commencement address at Johns Hopkins University at the Royal Farms Arena on May 18, 2016 in Baltimore, Maryland.Leigh Vogel / Getty Images

Spike Lee, Award-Winning Film Director and Producer

Johns Hopkins University

"Now is the time to seize the time, take advantage of this unique moment In history and build bridges amongst us — gender, race, religion, and nations. Not Walls. Let us build bridges of love versus walls of hate."

9. Find Your Change and Live It

Hon. Loretta Lynch, U.S. Attorney General

Spelman College

"As you prepare to leave here today, I urge you to draw strength from your inheritance. Never doubt that the smallest step can create the most sweeping change. Go forth into the world and explore the sciences that expand our world, the economies that keep it running and the laws that set us free. But never lose sight of our comrades in humanity on whose behalf we are called to work or the faith that will sustain us through it all. This is my call to you: to find your change and live it."

10. Be Willing to Listen

Marc Lamont Hill, Professor, Commentator, Host

Harris-Stowe State University

"Ya'll got the fancy degree from Harris-Stowe,ya 'll earned it but don’t think that because you got a fancy degree, that you're somehow better than the grandma who couldn’t go to school. Don’t think you’re wiser than the deaconess in your church. Don’t think you know more than those babies that are speaking truth to power on South Florissant. Don't think you know more just because you got the degree. Knowledge ain't wisdom."

11. Uphold the Values of Your University

Ruth J. Simmons, First Black President of an Ivy League Institution

University of Oklahoma

"Be careful that you do not later turn to patterns of thought and behavior that are antithetical to what has earned you this university’s stamp of approval. Continue to value the fearless pursuit of truth. Keep forging commonalities among people. Recognize and commit unabashedly to learning as a lifelong endeavor. Most of all, don’t just laminate or hang your diploma as proof of your studies here; persistent fidelity to its values is the best proof of your success as an OU alumnus."

12. Have Perspective

Michael Eric Dyson, Author, Professor

Hampton University

“You’ve got to have perspective, and the perspective you ought to have is that you come from a great people. You come from a stock of people that made America what it is today.”

13. Get in the Way

Members of the Washington University in St. Louis Class of 2016 joined family, friends and other members of the university family for Washington University's 155th Commencement Ceremony in the Brookings Quadrangle in St. Louis Friday, May 20. Chancellor Mark S. Wrighton led the ceremony, with US Rep. John Lewis (D-Ga.) serving as Commencement speaker, with honorary degrees being presented to Lewis, Euclid Williamson, Paula Kerger, Staffan Normark, MD, and Stephen Brauer. Student speakers were Christine Lung and Ashley Macrander.JAMES BYARD / Washington University

Congressman John Lewis, Freedom Fighter, Civil Rights Icon

Washington University

"The action of Rosa Parks and the words and leadership of Dr. King inspired me to find a way to get in the way. I got in the way. I got in trouble. Good trouble, necessary trouble. As graduates of this great university, you have received a great education. You must leave here and go out and get in the way. When you see something that is not right, not fair, not just, you must have the courage to stand up, to speak up, and find a way to get in the way."

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