Vice President Kamala Harris will give the commencement address at Tennessee State University on May 7, the school announced this morning. Harris will speak along with Birmingham, Ala., Mayor Randall Woodfin as some 900 students receive their degrees.
Elected officials, even up to the White House, are frequently sought as commencement speakers and presidents have delivered HBCU commencement speeches dating back to Harry Truman’s 1952 address at Howard University. Jimmy Carter spoke at Cheney State College, now University, in Pennsylvania.
Ronald Reagan spoke at Tuskegee University in 1987. In 1989, George H.W. Bush spoke at Alcorn State University and at Hampton University in 1991. Bill Clinton spoke at Morgan State in 1997 and at Grambling State University in 1999. And Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president, spoke at Hampton in 2010, Morehouse College in 2013 and Howard in 2016.
Harris will be the first vice president to have also graduated from an HBCU. She graduated from Howard in 1986.
The timing of her speech at Tennessee State will be critical, according to at least one White House official, who noted that it highlights a commitment of $5.8 billion in federal funding the Biden Administration has made to Black colleges.
Harris has met with administrators at Hampton, Howard, Morehouse and Clark Atlanta University since starting her term, and the Tennessee State’s president, Dr. Glenda Glover, is vice chair of Biden’s Board of Advisors on HBCUs, a group of academics and others giving the administration input on how to support the institutions.
Funding for colleges, and student loan debt, which disproportionately impacts Black borrowers, are hot-button issues in the upcoming midterm Congressional elections. Earlier this week, Biden announced a plan that could see as many as 40,000 borrowers have their debts forgiven.