ESSENCE Studios Stream National HBCU Commencement Celebration Live

Like most academic institutions around the country, Historically Black Colleges and Universities have been forced to cancel or postpone graduation ceremonies due to the COVID-19 outbreak. To celebrate the achievements of more than 27,000 students, Black leaders and 78 schools are joining forces virtually during the “Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition” commencement event presented by Chase on May 16 at 2:00 pm ET.

President Barack Obama will share a special message during the event. Hosted by Kevin Hart, guest appearances for the 2-hour event will include Steve Harvey, Chase Consumer Banking CEO Thasunda Brown Duckett, Ariel Investments Co-CEO and President Mellody Hobson, National Urban League president, Marc Morial, and academic leaders from participating HBCUs. Other participants include 10-time NBA All-Star Chris Paul, 8-time NBA All-Star Vince Carter, Debbie Allen, and Vivica Fox.

The virtual commencement will also include performances by Anthony Hamilton, Wyclef Jean, Omari Hardwick, and other musical guests—as well as a drumline mash-up featuring Doug E. Fresh.

The 2-hour event will be live-streamed on Chase’s YouTube, Twitter, and LinkedIn channels, as well as HBCU Connect’s Facebook page and Essence Studios. More information is available on, including a list of participating schools.

During the event, HBCUs will showcase and highlight past and current graduates, including Class of 2020 students from Howard University, Delaware State, Paul Quinn College, Florida Memorial College, and Texas Southern Law Center.

“Every student graduating in the Class of 2020 deserves to celebrate this moment—they earned it, even more so during a challenging year for our country and the world. We are showing up for them because we recognize they are our now and our future, and the way forward is full of opportunity,” said Duckett.

The idea for hosting a virtual commencement ceremony for HBCU students was conceived by Dr. Michael Sorrell, President of Paul Quinn College (PQC), and member of the ABP Advisory Council. Additional organizers for the event include Howard University, The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), Thurgood Marshall College Fund (TMCF), United Negro College Fund (UNCF) and the National Basketball Association (NBA.) Essence is supporting the event as a live streaming partner.

“As a result of COVID-19, our students have been robbed of a moment that they and their families have earned,” Sorrell said. “I am so grateful that this coalition of partners stepped up to answer the call of the HBCU community and stand in the gap for our students and their families.”

JPMorgan Chase is supporting “Show Me Your Walk HBCU Edition” through its Advancing Black Pathways (ABP) initiative, created to help black communities close historical achievement gaps in three key areas: wealth creation, educational outcomes, and career success. Support for HBCUs is a core focus for JPMorgan Chase because of the vital role they continue to play in helping African Americans forge pathways to long-term success. The first HBCUs were founded before the Civil War, and these institutions educated generations of African Americans during a period when other colleges and universities would not.

Today, HBCUs produce 70% of African American doctors and dentists1, 50% of black lawyers and 80% of black judges.2 HBCU graduates can also expect work-life earnings of $130 billion—an additional $927,000 per graduate, 56 percent more than they could expect to earn without their HBCU degrees or certificates, according to UNCF.

“Historically Black Colleges and Universities remain a critical resource in educating our young people and putting them on a path to lasting and rewarding careers,” said Sekou Kaalund, the Head of ABP. “Here at JPMorgan Chase, we are firmly committed to supporting HBCUs and helping them continue a tradition of excellence that has helped generations of black people achieve academic and professional success.”


In the wake of the COVID-19 crisis that has forced colleges and universities across the nation to postpone their commencement celebrations, a coalition of HBCU leaders, advocacy organizations, and corporate partners have come together to host the National HBCU Commencement Celebration.  The virtual event, the brainchild of Paul Quinn College president Dr. Michael J. Sorrell, will be streamed live internationally on ESSENCE Studios ( thanks to a partnership with ESSENCE – the leading media, technology, and commerce company serving Black women and communities for 50 years.

The celebration will take place on Saturday, May 16, 2020, and will feature celebrity hosts, motivational speakers, musical performances, and the profiles of HBCU valedictorians and other graduates. In addition to highlighting this year’s graduates and their institutions, the event will raise funds for participating HBCUs and their students.

As the result of COVID-19, our students have been robbed of a moment that they and their families have earned,” said Sorrell. “I am so grateful that this coalition of partners stepped up to answer the call of the HBCU community and stand in the gap for our students and their families.”

In addition to Paul Quinn College, the celebration is being organized by Howard University, The National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO), Thurgood Marshal College Fund (TMCF), and the United Negro College Fund (UNCF). The event is being supported by several partners, including ESSENCE, JPMorgan Chase, and the National Basketball Association (NBA).

“We are excited that graduates from our member-schools will receive the public recognition that they earned and deserved,” said Dr. Harry L. Williams, President, and CEO of TMCF, which represents 47-member schools. “This celebratory event is an effort to lift up all of our students and to let them know that we are proud of their hard work and perseverance, especially during these difficult times.”

Dr. Michael Lomax, President, and CEO of UNCF praised the event and said that the celebration will reinforce the importance and history of HBCUs.

“For 76 years, UNCF has helped more than half a million students graduate from college, and our mission remains the same even as we grapple with the impact of COVID-19,” said Lomax. “Students who receive a UNCF scholarship have a 70% graduation rate. I hope this program inspires viewers to support students to become college graduates.”

Funds raised during the event will go into an emergency fund to support HBCU students and will be distributed by TMCF and UNCF.  These dollars will go a long way in helping students who have been impacted by COVID-19.

“NAFEO is excited to join Dr. Michael Sorrell in realizing his vision and the dream of giving back to HBCU seniors, perhaps the most unfathomable aspect of their abrupt exile—the canceling of the commencement ceremonies,” said Lezli Baskerville, President, and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education. “Denying the seniors and their families the opportunity to participate in the ceremonial walk down the aisle to higher ground and the receipt of a ticket to greater economic security, greater independence, opportunities for service, and leadership is a celebration we would not permit for our sons and daughters and their families to miss.”

Added Dr. Wayne A. I. Frederick, President of Howard University: “Every HBCU in the country has been adversely impacted by the coronavirus pandemic due to interruptions to our academic year and the challenging transition to online learning,” said Frederick. “However, the loss that our seniors are experiencing with the abrupt end to their final semester and subsequent cancellation of the commencement convocation is the most heartbreaking part of this crisis. Hopefully this opportunity to come together as an HBCU community and celebrate these exceptional students will express our sincere gratitude to these scholars for their individual contributions to their respective institutions.”

JPMorgan Chase is supporting this effort through its Advancing Black Pathways initiative, which is committed to helping the black community achieve meaningful gains in three areas: educational achievement, career success, and wealth creation.

“Graduating from college is a sacred moment in a student’s life, and we are honored to support HBCUs, students and their families as we navigate one of the most unique and challenging periods in our nation’s history,” said Sekou Kaalund, the Head of Advancing Black Pathways. “Education is core to our mission of creating opportunity, and we are committed to helping black college students and graduates navigate this difficult environment and get on a path to lasting and rewarding careers.”

These deserving students have earned the right to commemorate and celebrate the tremendous accomplishment of receiving their diploma and launching the next phase of their lives,” said Oris Stuart, EVP and Chief Diversity Officer for the NBA. “The NBA is proud to support HBCUs and honor their graduates during this momentous occasion.”

“HBCUs have served as educational, social, and legacy pillars in the Black community for generations and continue to be an invaluable treasure to the nation,” said Richelieu Dennis, Founder, and Chair, Essence Ventures, the parent company of ESSENCE.  “For more than 180 years, these institutions have equipped students with the critical tools needed to create pathways to success and have cultivated generations of vanguards, trailblazers, and leaders.  As we come together to develop innovative solutions for these unprecedented times, we are excited to utilize our ESSENCE Studios platform to provide thousands of 2020 HBCU graduates and their loved ones from around the world with the special commencement experience and celebration they deserve.”