By Madison Pina
Unity and service were two ideas that Howard University’s 18th president, Ben Vinson III, focused on during his speech on Friday at the 156th opening convocation, which welcomes and celebrates students, faculty, staff, alumni and visitors.
All 1,500 seats of Cramton Auditorium were filled, as the new president spoke of his excitement and ability to move Howard forward. Vinson explained how Howard is essential to our people and our country. The shared community of the university allows Howard to serve those around it, he said.
“I believe our collective mission is to aim even greater,” Vinson said. “I will do everything in my power to steward us there.”
“All of you in the audience – the faces and splendor of Howard – looking at us as we’ve gathered at this opening convocation, I know that being at maximum strength also means us moving forward together, boldly as one community in every corner of this auditorium.”
Other speakers included Laurence C. Morse, chairman of the Howard University Board of Trustees; Nia Naylor, president of the Howard University Student Association (HUSA); and the Rev. Dr. Bernard L. Richardson, dean of the Andrew Rankin Memorial Chapel at Howard, who gave tThe celebration continued with a cookout on the Yard, where students took part in activities such as mini golf, giant Jenga and, of course, enjoying the food. Featured at the event were WHUR 96.3 as well as student ambassadors giving out samples and stickers for skincare line Glow Recipe.
Students shared how they are looking forward to the future of Howard under Vinson, who also participated in a meet-and-greet after brief remarks. They had not had an opening convocation that followed with a fun activity for students, such as a cookout. Sophomore Tyla Woods said it felt like a good indicator of Vinson’s ability to “connect with students, and that’s good.”
Students also described Vinson as charismatic and open. They enjoyed getting to know the new president during the convocation and gaining insightful takeaways from the event.
“He just seemed very welcoming,” said Jayda Safro, a sophomore in the School of Business. “That’s something I really enjoyed. I feel like everyone was paying attention just because of how he was speaking and how he was sharing personal stories, too.”
Ben Vinson III is an accomplished historian and author of “Before Mestizaje: The Frontiers of Race and Caste in Colonial Mexico,” which received the Howard F. Cline Book Prize in 2019. Born in South Dakota, his father was an Air Force serviceman, and his mom was an elementary school teacher.
Because of his father’s military service, he was raised partly in Sovizzo, Italy, a small community with just over 7,000 residents. He grew up bilingual, as his first school was an Italian school. His experience growing up in the diaspora shaped him to become a scholar of the African experience in Latin America, particularly Mexico.
The new president is no stranger to leading universities. The Dartmouth College graduate, who earned his doctorate at Columbia University, was most recently provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland. Previous positions include dean of the Columbian College of Arts and Sciences at George Washington University and founding director of the Center for Africana Studies at John Hopkins University. Vinson was also on the faculty at Barnard College and Penn State University.
Vinson talks of his parents who instilled in him the importance of hard work, discipline, education and service. His mom always told him, “They can take everything away from you, but they cannot take away your mind.”
He comes at a time when Howard students are faced with ongoing challenges, such as campus safety and financial struggles. In 2021, students protested over rats, roaches and mold found in dorms and academic buildings as they returned to campus after the COVID-19 shutdown.
Students expressed their belief that Vinson is what the university needs at this time. “I liked what the new president was saying, so I’m rooting for him, for sure,” said Alvina Okafor, a graduate student in the School of Pharmacy. “I wanna see him do great things. His plans seem excellent, so I wanna hear about it in the future.”
As Howard welcomes the class of 2027 and another academic school year, Vinson shows promise of continuing to support the university and everyone in it.
“I am at Howard because I am steadfastly sure of our university’s mission moving forward,” Vinson said. “Howard has always altered human perspectives through our teaching, research and dissemination of truth. We’ve changed minds.”
“Howard has always given hope where there is despair, built confidence against strife, created unimaginable strength and resiliency through our work in service. It’s what we do.”
Madison Pina is reporter for HUNewsService.com.