Create a free Diverse: Issues In Higher Education account to continue reading

When a Commencement Speech Goes Viral

Dr. Daniel Black’s 15-minute speech, which he delivered to Clark Atlanta University (CAU) graduates last weekend quickly spread like a wildfire across social media. 

Black, a CAU graduate who has taught English and African American Studies at the historically Black institution for the past 30 years, was surprised when he was asked to deliver the address. 

“I was completely and absolutely shocked because sitting professors are never asked to deliver the commencement address anywhere,” said Black, in an interview with Diverse. “I felt incredibly honored by my own institution because not only do I teach there, but I went there.” 

Back when Black was a student there, the institution was Clark College. By the time he returned in 1993 to join the faculty, the college had consolidated with Atlanta University to become what it is today. 

“As an alumnus and faculty member, I felt seen and really honored,” Black said of the speech that immediately went viral. “My first thought was that I wanted to represent the faculty, those who have been in the trenches with me for years teaching and sometimes being underpaid.”

Clips from the live stream have been replayed hundreds of thousands of times over the past week.Dr. Daniel BlackDr. Daniel Black

“If Harriet Tubman can run to freedom, you can run to your destiny,” Black told the 600 graduates. "This is CAU. The proud of you. The excellent debut. You say you need a college degree, well we offer three: the bachelor's, the master's, and the Ph.D.,” he told the cheering audience, instigating a bit of competitiveness with academic rivals Spelman and Morehouse College, housed next door to CAU.

“I wanted to acknowledge all of their possibilities. I wanted to connect them with their ancestors. I wanted to connect them to the lineage of folks who have graduated from CAU and done great and massive things,” Black said. “ I wanted to put them in the context of 400 years of enslavement and debasement in America, and then I wanted to send them into the stars. I wanted to excite them about the future uninhibited and unhindered by the shackles of race and racism in America, and it looks like I did.” 

Black told Diverse that he has been inundated with calls and texts after his speech went viral, including a message from U.S. Sen. Raphael Warnock.

"Dr. Daniel “Danny” Black and I were students together at the AUC," Warnock posted on social media following the commencement address. "He was an upperclassman at Clark College and I a freshman at Morehouse. While I don’t appreciate the subtle shade he tries to throw at my school, this is a wonderful ode to the singular mission and magic of HBCU’S!! Well done, OLD friend!!!"

Black said that he is encouraged by the many messages that he has received recently from high school students who are now looking to enroll at Clark Atlanta University in the future. 

“I’ve gotten lots of messages from high school kids who said they would have never considered going to an HBCU until now," Black said. "That really moved me.” 

Black said that he wanted to use his speech to express the importance and pride of HBCUs throughout the nation's history. 

“I think without HBCUs, Black people would have remained the underclass, and many of us would have remained symbolically and validly enslaved in this country,” Black said. “I think Black schools believe in Black people when white schools were skeptical of Black people. I think that legacy assures a kind of success that PWIs do not believe in and don’t share.” 

In the days since the campaign, a petition has circulated across the internet encouraging CAU to honor Black with a distinguished professorship. 

The trusted source for all job seekers
We have an extensive variety of listings for both academic and non-academic positions at postsecondary institutions.
Read More
The trusted source for all job seekers