Back in high school, applying to an HBCU wasn’t even on the radar of Ezinne Kwubiri as she made college plans. In fact, the Nigerian-born, future H&M executive’s only knowledge about historically black institutions came from what she saw on TV sitcoms in the 1980s and ’90s—The Cosby Show and A Different World. But after a friend invited her to visit the Howard University campus, Kwubiri was captured by the school’s rich history and traditions.
One of those traditions at Howard is creating a sense of connectedness, she said.
“As soon as you step on campus there’s an aura of feeling at home. There’s a sense of belonging, a sense of, I can see myself in these people. And then I saw a lot of the history and legacy walking on the campus,” Kwubiri recalled. “That spirit of being at home was there, and I became obsessed. And that was it for me.”
She applied to Howard and was accepted, calling it one of the two most important decisions of her life.
That sense of belonging and being at home goes a long way toward explaining why the annual Homecoming is one of Howard’s most enduring traditions.
Thousands of alumni—longing to return home—will flock to the campus in October for 2019 Homecoming. It will be a time to reconnect with college friends and to give something back to an institution that was instrumental to their personal and professional growth.
And, oh yeah, it will be a time to party. Homecoming attracts some of the biggest names in music and entertainment each year for Yardfest, other on-campus gatherings and at venues in the nation’s capital.
Kwubiri recalled, almost reliving the excitement, that Jay-Z and John Legend performed at her first Homecoming as a student in 2000. “Coming from high school, and this is your first Homecoming, it was like, wow,” she said.
Since graduating from Howard in 2004 with an accounting degree, Kwubiri has steadily climbed the ladder of success. Her career includes working as the Director of Change Management, Global Business Services at the media giant Viacom, which owns brands like BET and Paramount. In November, she became H&M’s Head of Diversity and Inclusion for North America when the company found itself engulfed in racial controversy.
Kwubiri, who immigrated to the United States at age six with her family and grew up in the Bronx, N.Y., credits much of her career success to traditions at the Howard School of Business, or the “School of B” as it’s fondly called.
“I gained 100 percent confidence [from business school],” she stated emphatically. “I belong where I am in the business world. I’m talented and smart. Howard Business School will help you to have that self-confidence.”
Howard Business School, founded in 1970 and now ranking among the top business schools in the nation, has traditions that begin with freshman orientation and continue in classrooms that prepare graduates to become invaluable team members and business leaders after they graduate.
At orientation, the incoming freshman must wear professional business attire—a pivotal lesson that appearance matters in the business world. Freshmen also learn the business school’s tradition of how to introduce themselves when meeting people for the first time or asking a question in a group setting.
Kwubiri said Howard’s School of B students raise their hand, stand up, introduce themselves, ask their question and remain standing until that question is answered.
“To this day, I always stand up, introduce myself, and acknowledge guests when appropriate,” she said. “All of the business school’s traditions created a framework for how to function in the business world.”
Another celebrated Howard tradition is its Greek life. “Greek-letter organizations are an integral component of the campus culture and serve as a positive way to form life-long friendships, build a dynamic network, and engage in leadership experiences,” the university’s website says. To that end, Howard hosts nine international Greek letter sororities and fraternities.
Kwubiri is counted among the more than 200,000 women who pledge Delta Sigma Theta since its founding in 1913 by 22 collegiate women at Howard. For decades, the sorority’s members have dedicated themselves to academic excellence and community service.
“My friends and I always say the two best things we did up to this point in our life was one, go to Howard, and two, pledged Delta,” she said. “As a student, I was surrounded by my Alpha Chapter sorors. I’m an only child, so that sisterhood component for me was a really big part of my life.”
Homecoming is a special time for Howard’s Greek-letter society. Members spanning several generations come together in one place. “Being able to meet people you’ve heard of in person and they fully embrace you as if they’ve known you for years, for me, that’s a super great experience,” Kwubiri added.9:50
Correction: 6/5/19, 9:50 a.m. ET: Biggie Smalls, who died in 1997, could not have performed at Howard’s 2000 Homecoming. The story has been updated.