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My current students don’t always understand me when I say relationships are important. I tell them during orientation that each year they should find at least ONE faculty member who can write a good recommendation letter for them so when they graduate they have at least four people. And a good letter is one where the person doesn’t need to see your resume to write it.

I started sharing the words of Dr. Anthony Abraham Jack of Harvard, author of the wonderful text The Privileged Poor who says “It’s not what you know or who you know, but who knows you and how well they do.” A generation that at times finds it difficult to let their guard down enough so they can be helped try to do too much on their own and find themselves missing opportunities and blessings. …

I am modifying this piece I wrote last year on this date. It’s timely.

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UNCF presidents with Rep. Nancy Pelosi at 2020 UNCF Annual Dinner

For the past few years I’ve made a resolution for my HBCU presidential colleagues to write more editorials (right- I’m making resolutions for them but since my younger colleagues call me the Dean of the young-ish presidents, I can do that!). I shared a number of quotes from presidents over the years saying we have to use our voices in the public sphere. My favorite was from Benjamin Elijah Mays, who in a 1951 article entitled “What’s Wrong With Negro Leaders,” wrote “the first thing wrong with all too many Negro leaders, whether on the local or national scene, is fear. …

One of the phrases we heard a lot in 2020 was essential employee. These were the people that HAD to go to work in spite of a deadly virus. Even when cities shut down, schools and universities went online, and major corporations went to virtual offices, we still had people maintaining the basic functions that could not be done from a laptop at the house.

At Dillard, we had our essential employees as well. I know sometimes students and parents believe that everything should operate perfectly all the time, but anyone honest with themselves in 2020 realizes that this is not possible. Add in a hurricane or two and you realize that many things happen that are out of your control. …

December belongs to Durell Smylie, a 23-year-old car salesman from Baton Rouge who went viral for his promo video offering a deal to potential customers. Hopping out of the trunk he says “We goin’… where the money reside.”

I love people here in Louisiana. The creative use of words is simply unmatched (Big Freedia is the Queen, but you already know), and now Durell has everyone making plans for 2021 to be where the money reside. I expect at least one sermon tonight for Watch Night will be “Where the money reside!”

Well, in 2020, a lot of philanthropy found its way to Dillard University. Despite a pandemic, we had a tremendous fundraising year and we want the money to continue to reside here in 2021. Here are a few of the examples. …

Not only was 2020 marked by a coronavirus pandemic, it was also the year where we began looking at a racial pandemic as well. With most businesses and schools switching to a virtual environment beginning in March, everyone was at home — all the time. And since 2020 is also the designation for perfect vision, the killing of George Floyd on May 25th was clearly seen by people all around the world. Unlike the videos we have unfortunately seen all too often, this one was different. …

2020 proved the adage, “Necessity is the mother of invention.” When you have to move everything online in a matter of weeks, a lot of creativity is required. One of the blessings from a pandemic is that it pushed us to find new and creative ways to operate. This happened in all industries, and I think you saw more cooperation within and between industries.

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Our dynamic duo of originality are Mark Raymond and Cortheal Clark. Any campus productions, from commencement to convocations, usually have their touch. They are our Jimmy Jam and Terry Lewis.

Undaunted. Not intimidated or discouraged by difficulty, danger, or disappointment. This should be the word for 2020 because I have seen so many people all around the world do what they needed to do despite the pandemic because they were undaunted. The health care professionals. The researchers. The first responders. The grocery and food providers. All essential workers kept doing what had to be done while much of the world scaled back and shut down.

With a global pandemic it would be easy to take time off from school. A crashing economy and worries about health (especially African Americans) are valid reasons. But I saw a great number of students, parents, professors and staff members on our campus (and on all college campuses) that despite the pandemic were dedicated to having some kind of normalcy this year. …

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Like all colleges and universities, Dillard has its fair share of notable alumni. We all love to take credit for their accomplishments, and while we play a role, most bring something with them to our institutions that hopefully build on.

Dillard has more than its fair share of notable alumni, many of them household names. These include Garrett Morris, the first Black cast member on Saturday Night Live and also known for The Jamie Foxx Show and Martin. Dr. Ruth Simmons, the first Black president of an Ivy League university and the only person to serve as president of an Ivy League university, an all women’s college, and an HBCU. …

Every year I do a countdown of seven of the most significant events in the life of Dillard University. I pick seven since I am the seventh president (and of course as an Alpha we know 7 is a perfect number!) I started doing this in 2015 as a way to end the year with a spirit of gratitude for the great things that happen. You can find my first lists here:

2020 has been a crazy year but despite the craziness we had major accomplishments. But this year instead of seven memorable moments, I am going to do seven groups of people that made 2020 a great year. …

I am 53 years old and have been a college president for 16 years. That’s crazy, right? 16 years! Every December 13th I pause to remember my first day as president of Philander Smith College.

This year, I thought I would thank 16 people/groups that were important on my journey to becoming a president at 37. I could have easily listed 32. But I wanted to start with these 16.

During this COVID season I am more aware that we don’t express enough gratitude. Social media is often the devil, a place that author Charles Blow says “idolizes indignation.” People seem like they would rather curse someone rather than uplift them. …


Walter M. Kimbrough

7th president of Dillard University

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