HAMPTON, VA. (Dec. 21, 2021) — Hampton University President Dr. William R. Harvey joined the recent graduates of Virginia State University (VSU) to deliver the keynote address at VSU’s 2021 fall commencement ceremony this past weekend. Following his impassioned speech, which received multiple standing ovations from the graduates, Dr. Harvey made history in an emotional moment shares by everyone, as he received an honorary doctorate from Virginia State University and a surprise honorary doctorate from Virginia Union Universities, commemorating his legacy of service as “one of the greatest leaders in higher education.”
Dr. Harvey began his address to the 2021 VSU graduating class by sharing his own personal connection to VSU, from his time as a graduate student fresh out of the United State Military to meeting his wife of 55 years, Mrs. Norma B. Harvey. “I want all of you to know that I am pleased to be associated with anything involving Virginia State,” Dr. Harvey said. “Virginia State is directly responsible for my life as I know it today. The library will always hold a special place for me, not because that is one of the places where I would study, but because it is the place where I first saw my wife. Norma has had and extraordinary positive and important impact on my life. Therefore, I will always be indebted to Virginia State for giving me the match which lights my life.”
Dr. Harvey spoke beautifully to the students, alumni, faculty, staff and parents who were present at the graduation ceremony. Based on the theme of acting, his remarks compared the higher education experience to that of a stage performance. “The commencement exercise has been described in many ways, but I like to think of it as a brief intermission between the act of formal academic study and the act of real life,” Dr. Harvey said. “As your participation in this commencement exercises attest, those of you in the 2021 graduating class obviously performed your parts well. You learned your lines. You mastered the meaning your subjects, as well as the subtleties and nuances of your parts. In the process, you came to a new awareness of social interaction, human relations and human understanding.”
Dr. Harvey went on to speak about what this graduating class witnessed over the last four years. He mentioned both negative and positive situations, including drug abuse, international terrorism, political unrest, and the impact COVID-19 has made on our nation and the world at large. “Clearly, as graduates of 2021, you have witnessed the best of times and the worst of times. As an actor in this drama, I am sure that as a result of the changes around you, you have experienced a miscued line or an unsuccessful audition. On occasion, you became an inept or ailing actor, struggling to survive a performance. Yet, you knew that the show must go on,” Dr. Harvey said.
As he continued, Dr. Harvey expressed to the graduates that in the drama of life, the curtain eventually has to come down and their lives are paused between their four-year degree experience and the next act of their lives. “When the curtain rises on the act following this day, you will find that your roles have changed. You will no longer be the mere stars and starlets of the production which is to follow. Rather, you’ll assume the role of directors and producers, the leaders if you will, of the new stars and starlets of the next generation,” Dr. Harvey said.
In the conclusion of the address, Dr. Harvey charged VSU’s graduating class of 2021 with several goals and doled out expert advice to ensure them future success. “My charge to you is to see the horizon not as a limit, but as an invitation. The torch has been passed to you with the expectation that you’ll hold it higher and carry it farther than those who have walked before you,” Dr. Harvey said. “I’ll tell you what I tell my own graduates—dream no small dreams.” Dr. Harvey also advised VSU’s graduates to save something out of every paycheck, to buy property because it appreciates, to stay away from drugs and drug dealers, and to support the university that has given them so much. “Be positive role models; be leaders in your respective fields, and be of service to others,” Dr. Harvey said. “I congratulate you fellow Trojans, Virginia State University class of 2021, on what you’ve already achieved. I say to you, make the world a better place through your continued achievements. The world is waiting for you.”
VSU’s President, Dr. Makola Abdullah, thanked Dr. Harvey for his message and then announced to the audience that VSU would honor Dr. Harvey’s legendary accomplishments during his tenure as Hampton University's President and the work he has done for all HBCUs. “We are going to honor him with the honorary doctorate for over 40 years of service as President of Hampton University and the work he has done for all of our HBCUs. To make this a true surprise, we are going to do something at Virginia State that has never been done.”
President Abdullan invited Dr. Allia L. Carter, Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer for Virginia Union University in nearby Richmond, Va. to the podium. She, too, conferred an honorary degree to Dr. Harvey, in addition to the one he had just received from Virginia State. “Your legacy will be forever cemented in history as one of the greatest leaders in higher education. Dr. Harvey, in honor of your 43 years of leadership at Hampton University and to the community at large, the Board of Trustees is proud to confer on you the Doctorate of Humane Letters with all rights and privileges.”
An emotional Dr. Harvey received another standing ovation as he delivered his final point and thanked both institutions. “I could not have done it without my team,” said Dr. Harvey. “People talk about all of the wonderful things that we have done at Hampton and other places. I could not have done that without my team. I believe that collective competence is better than individual competence any day. I cannot say anything but thank you my team. I thank Virginia State and I thank Virginia Union. I told you all earlier, Virginia State will always have a place in my life.”