Black Commencement Speakers: Best of 2011

Barack Obama, Queen Latifah, Denzel Washington and more hit the campus greens with their words of wisdom.

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  • President Barack Obama, Miami Dade College

    President Barack Obama, Miami Dade College

    Words of wisdom: “Pursue success. Do not falter. When you make it, pull somebody else up. Remember, your life is richer when people around you have a shot at opportunity as well.” –April 29, Miami

    Captions by Kristilyn Whigham

  • Michelle Obama, Spelman College

    Michelle Obama, Spelman College

    Words of wisdom: “There will always be folks who try to raise themselves up by cutting other people down. That happens to everyone, including me, throughout their lives. But when that happens to you all, here’s what I want you to do. I want you to just stop a minute. Take a deep breath, because it’s going to need to be deep, and I want you to think about all those women who came before you.” –May 15, Atlanta

  • Bill Cosby, Hampton University

    Bill Cosby, Hampton University

    Words of wisdom: “I want you all to feel that the responsibility of this revolution is in your heart. We need people to build stores with food, clothing. We need people to go to our farmers, buy things, bring fresh foods back … We need you to stop counting on other people to bring things to your neighborhood.” –May 8, Hampton, Va.

  • John Legend, Kean University

    John Legend, Kean University

    Words of wisdom: “Take that gift and go forth in the world with a mission for good … Find ways to give. Find ways to serve. Find ways to contribute to society.” –May 12, Union, N.J.

  • Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Florida A&M University

    Atlanta Mayor Kasim Reed, Florida A&M University

    Words of wisdom: “Do not miss your time to do extraordinary things. Don’t let people distract you right now. This is your opportunity to get it together. When you see a little girl’s face or little boy’s face that looks like yours, you have to help them get what you have.” –May 30, Tallahassee, Fla.

  • Queen Latifah, Delaware State University

    Queen Latifah, Delaware State University

    Words of wisdom: “Set your goals, go out in the world and get it … Life is for the living. Your goals are still there to be reached.” — May 21, Dover, Del.

  • Toni Morrison, Rutgers University

    Toni Morrison, Rutgers University

    Words of wisdom: “Bit by bit, step by step, you can change things — the things that need changing.” — May 15, Piscataway, N.J.

  • Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Fisk University

    Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker, Fisk University

    Words of wisdom: “Class of 2011, stand up! Because people stood for you, they fought for you, they struggled for you, they bled this soil of this nation for you, stand up. Stand up because you stand on a foundation of Fisk fortitude, the foundation of the fiercest faith, stand up because you stand on a Fisk foundation. Stand up! Stand up because what Frederick Douglass said is true. In life you don’t get everything you paid for but you must pay for everything you get. Stand up!” –May 2, Nashville, Tenn.

  • Essence Editor-at-Large Susan Taylor, Clark Atlanta University

    Essence Editor-at-Large Susan Taylor, Clark Atlanta University

    Words of wisdom: “Remember the words of the black national anthem and stand strong, even when your heart is breaking. Know your relationship with God and reach for the sun, my brothers and sisters. Go forth and change the world.” –May 16, Atlanta

  • Denzel Washington, University of Pennsylvania

    Denzel Washington, University of Pennsylvania

    Words of wisdom: “Every graduate here today has the training and the talent to succeed, but do you have the guts to fail? If you don’t fail, you’re not even trying … When you leave the friendly confines of Philly, never be discouraged, never hold back, give everything you’ve got and when you fall … remember this — fall forward.” — May 15, Philadelphia

  • The Rev. Al Sharpton, Bethune-Cookman University

    The Rev. Al Sharpton, Bethune-Cookman University

    Words of wisdom: “No matter what you face, you have the grounding and foundation for excellence. You are not responsible for all that happens to you in your life, but you are responsible for what you do with what happens to you in your life. It doesn’t matter in life who’s on your side if you’re not on your own side.” — May 5, Daytona Beach, Fla.

  • Radio Host Tom Joyner, Tuskegee University

    Radio Host Tom Joyner, Tuskegee University

    Words of wisdom: “A lot of people are educated but won’t offer a hand to serve others. They’re worth a lot of money, but not worth anything if they don’t serve. If I’ve learned anything, it’s the importance of giving back.” –May 8, Tuskegee, Ala.

  • Journalist Gwen Ifill, Morehouse College

    Journalist Gwen Ifill, Morehouse College

    Words of wisdom: “It’s your responsibility to shine a light, the light of justice, the light of understanding, in the world. And it’s as necessary as it can be satisfying. That’s what we expect of Morehouse men.” — May 15, Atlanta

  • Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, South Carolina State University

    Ret. Gen. Colin Powell, South Carolina State University

    Words of wisdom: “Always remember, it’s not where you start in life but where you end up. Leave here and perform. No matter what your path is you have to perform to get ahead, and what helped me to do that was I was doing something that I loved.” — May 6, Orangeburg, S.C.

  • U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, University of Virginia School of Law

    U.S. Attorney General Eric Holder, University of Virginia School of Law

    Words of wisdom: “As you pursue your own passions and work to fulfill your collective responsibilities, I hope, in the spirit of Robert Kennedy — your famous predecessor, and mine — that you will dare greatly; that you will question what is accepted and change what is objectionable; that you will root out injustice in all its forms; and that you always will remember the truth of his enduring words: ‘The future is not a gift. It is an achievement.’ ” — May 22, Charlottesville, Va.