Filed Under:  Education

‘P. Diddy’ to keynote Howard graduation: Some criticize, others praise decision

5th May 2014   ·   0 Comments

By Jasmine Rennie
Contributing Writer

( — Journalist and author A. Peter Bailey, a former Howard Univ­ersity student, best known for his work with Malcolm X, told a Howard journalism class that he was shocked to hear the Univ­ersity’s decision to award Hip-Hop artist Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs with an honorary doctorate degree in humanities and have him give the commencement address May 10.

“I almost fell off my chair when I heard that our illustrious University will be honoring Diddy with a doctorate degree and that he would be the commencement speaker,” said Bailey. “Now people like Diddy are the ones getting PhDs and furthering education. But what about all those brothers sitting in jail because they were listening to what you were advocating and promoting in your music?”



Bailey left Howard after two years around 1961. He traveled to New York where he met Malcolm X and became editor of his organizational newsletter and eventually an associate editor of Ebony magazine and adjunct professor of the Black Press at Virginia Common­wealth University.

His comments come amidst much chatter from students and alum who are both excited about and disappointed with Combs’ delivering the keynote speech. For some current and former Bison (Howard’s mascot), the announcement comes as a surprise and discouragement since Combs did not ultimately graduate from the university.

“Howard has announced that the philanthropist and entertainment mogul—a former student in the School of Business-will be receiving the honorary doctorate and will be the 146th commencement speaker for the 1,800-member graduating class of 2014. In selecting the individuals who will be awarded honorary degrees, Howard University continues the tradition of identifying leaders whose work has clearly contributed to the advancement of their fields and the world,” Frederick said. “We are honored to have Mr. Combs serve as our speaker. He sat in classrooms where our students sit, walked ‘The Yard,’ and like many students, his entrepreneurial spirit was sparked at Howard. We know he will inspire our class to work hard and to always strive for excellence.”

Also know as Sean “Puffy” Combs, “Diddy” left Howard after only two years in the late 1980s to pursue his career without graduating. He is chairman, chief executive officer and founder of Combs Enterprises, “one of the world’s preeminent group of companies and brands,” states the Howard release. “Recently declared ‘One of the Most Influential Businessmen in the World’ by Time Magazine and CNN, Combs has built a reputation as a master brand builder, pop culture icon and champion of youth education and entrepreneurship.”

Hip-hop titles, such as “Bad Boy 4 Life” and “All About the Benjamins” are among his hits, which are often riddled with expletives and profanity – part of a culture that some view as toxic to youth. Nevertheless, his multi-million dollar enterprise continues to skyrocket. Just last year, he launched Revolt, a TV channel that features all music. The station reportedly airs in 20 million homes across the U.S.

His success is the reason that many are excited about the entertainer as speaker because he represents entrepreneurial focus and hard work on his craft, which happens to be music.

Graduating senior Kevon Paynter, also an entrepreneur, is an avid supporter of Combs as keynote speaker. Recently named first place winner of the Howard School of Communication’s business plan competition, Paynter said he had always admired Combs when he met him after literally bumping into him on a New York sidewalk in 2009 – only weeks before he was about to enter Howard. He introduced himself to Combs and told him he had been accepted to Howard.

“He congratulated me…It’s really amazing to me how, about five years later, he’s going to be the commencement speaker during my graduation – kind of like coming full circle.

Overall, he really was able to be a top notch entrepreneur. That’s something that, in the School of Communications, that is something that is revered and that is what many students strive to be and there is no better entrepreneur in my mind than Sean Combs,” Paynter said.

As for lyrics that some might find offensive or controversial, “It kind of rubs me the wrong way whenever we take the perspective that because this person is viewed as a role model, we have to follow every single aspect of this person. One of the things that I have successfully been able to do is have a couple of role models and pull the best aspects out of each one…We have a mind of our own.”

Still, Jennifer Brooks, a Mississippi native who is also a graduating senior, is adamantly against Combs as speaker: “We look stupid because he was able to become rich without college. Now he’s going to give us advice about what? How to hustle in the music industry?”

Stressing that she’s not a “Diddy hater at all,” Brooks says Combs is meant to speak to a specific group, not a graduating class, “Diddy is for a niche group; not Howard University Graduation.”

Maryland native and Howard University Alum, Ava Onalaja, is happy a fellow Bison is returning to Howard. “Even though he didn’t graduate, it’s great that he now has the opportunity to come back and thank the institution that helped contribute to some of his success,” she said.

Maia Miller agrees. “Diddy is a great example of someone who has used his skills and talents to get where he wanted to be,” she says. “He is an icon that has gone down in history, his name is recognized globally and he is at the top of his field.”

Miller says she is confused by the controversy. “Doesn’t the university aspire to produce young professionals like Diddy, who will take the world by storm, leave their mark and make HU proud?”

Often called, “the Mecca” because of its historic and national reputation for graduating successful students, past Commencement speakers have included the likes of former President Bill Clinton and Oprah Winfrey.

The 2014 honorary degrees will be received by four other individuals during the ceremony: They are transplant surgeon Clive Callender, CNN’s Wolf Blitzer, jazz legend Benny Golson and PepsiCO Corporation CEO Indra K. Nooyi.

This article originally published in the May 5, 2014 print edition of The Louisiana Weekly newspaper.

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