Vice President Harris to Deliver Commencement Address at Tennessee State University

Friday, May 6, Vice President Kamala Harris traveled to Nashville, Tennessee where she will deliver the undergraduate commencement address at Tennessee State University. The commencement ceremony will take place at Hale Building Stadium on Saturday, May 7th. Vice President Harris will be joined by TSU President Glenda Glover, Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin, and Nashville Mayor John Cooper. There, she will also accept an honorary Doctorate of Humane Laws. Vice President Harris will speak to more than 500 graduates about the opportunity and responsibility of leadership in this moment in history. She will discuss how the world needs them and their individual perspectives to help shape the principles that will define the future. She will also talk about how her own experiences—including as a fellow graduate of a Historically Black College or University (HBCU)—have influenced the way she views the world.

Vice President Harris’ participation in Tennessee State University’s graduation ceremonies comes after a year and a half of historic investments by the Biden-Harris Administration in Historically Black Colleges and Universities, including $5.8 billion in resources and the reissuance of the White House Initiative on HBCUs. In March, President Biden announced TSU President Dr. Glenda Glover would serve as Vice Chair of President Biden’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs

As a graduate of Howard University, Vice President Harris understands first-hand the critical role of HBCUs in strengthening our country and developing future leaders, and has prioritized visiting HBCUs and meeting with HBCU leaders. Vice President Harris has visited Hampton University, Clark Atlanta University, Morehouse College, and Howard University, and as recently as this month met with Thurgood Marshall Fund Presidents and Chancellors.

On January 20, 2021, Vice President Harris became the first Vice President to have graduated from an HBCU. On Saturday, May 7th, she will become the first sitting Vice President to have graduated from HBCU to deliver the keynote address at an HBCU’s Commencement. 

Vice President Harris will also deliver the keynote address during the U.S. Coast Guard Academy’s Commencement Exercises on May 18th in New London, Connecticut. In 2021, she delivered the commencement address at the U.S. Naval Academy in Annapolis, Maryland.

Excerpts from Vice President Harris’ Remarks as Prepared

“Each of you has your own story. Your own way of looking at the world, shaped by every moment that brought you to this point. I was around your age when I made the decision that I wanted to take on systemic problems from inside the system. That I would seek solutions through the lens of my own experiences and perspectives. That I wanted—that I needed—to be in the rooms where decisions were being made. Graduates, you stand on the brink of a new frontier… and we need you in the room helping to make these decisions.”

“I stand before you today—as the Vice President of the United States of America, and as a proud graduate of a HBCU—to say: There is no limit to your capacity for greatness. There is no obstacle you cannot overcome. There is no barrier you cannot break.

“I want you to always remember that you are not alone. That you come from people. That you come with people. Because I promise you, there will be a time when you walk into a boardroom, or a courtroom, or maybe even the Situation Room. You will walk into the room, and find that you are the only person there who looks like you or has had your life experience. At that moment, you must remember you are not in that room alone.”

Doctorate of Humane Laws

Tennessee State University’s Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree recognizes individuals who inspire others, personify excellence, integrity, and commitment, and enhance the public good. According to TSU, “Vice President Kamala Harris serves as the first female and first person of color in her capacity as the Vice President of the United States of America, and as such makes her an excellent recipient for this award.  For these accomplishments and more, Vice President Harris will be presented with the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree.”

Notable individuals who have received the Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters from Tennessee State University include: Coach Ed Temple, TSU and Olympic Track and Field Coach, considered the greatest track and field coach of all times; Rev. Al Sharpton, Civil Rights Leader and Motivational Speaker; and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, Author and Motivational Speaker.

Biden-Harris Administration’s Accomplishment on HBCUs

  • The American Rescue Plan included $3.7 billion to help HBCUs support students’ basic needs during pandemic, support campus operations, staffing, teaching, and educational programs; and keep campus safe from COVID.
  • The Department of Education announced $1.6 billion of debt discharged from loans provided to HBCUs institutions in April 2021.
  • The Department of Education awarded more than $500 million in grant funding to HBCUs for academic capacity-building and fiscal stability.
  • In September 2021, President Biden signed an Executive Order to re-establish the White House Initiative on Advancing Educational Equity, Excellence, and Economic Opportunity through HBCUs and issued a proclamation recognizing National HBCU Week.
  • During HBCU week 2022, President Biden also named Tony Allen, President of Delaware State University, as Chair of the President’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs.
  • In response to bomb threats earlier this year at over 50 HBCU campuses, the Administration announced Project School Emergency Response to Violence (Project SERV) grants for HBCUs that have recently experienced a bomb threat. The $50,000 -$150,000 Project SERV grants could be used for mental health services or improvements to security and readiness infrastructure for impacted Universities.

Tennessee State University

Tennessee State University was founded in 1912 and is Nashville’s only public university and a historically black university. TSU offers 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and eight doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research-intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  Tennessee State University received $58.5 in Higher Education Emergency Relief Funds from the American Rescue Plan.