Dillard Notables of 2021: #7 Michael Ealy is not just a pretty face!
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 checked to see when I started a year-end list — it was 2015 (I did the top 10 then). You can check out what I highlighted in 2015 below.
10 Dillard University Notables of 2015: #10 to #6
For the end of 2015 I am reflecting on a great calendar year. And since everyone has a list, I'll add one of my own…
10 Dillard University Notables of 2015: #5 to #2
The countdown continues of memorable moments at Dillard in 2015. #5 80th anniversary of DU Theater Dillard has the…
10 Dillard University Notables of 2015: #1
As Big Freedia would sing, "You already know!" #1 DENZEL
That makes this list is my seventh as well! How about that?
I ended 2015 with commencement and I am going to begin 2021 with commencement. No doubt about it, during my time at Dillard we have had the best collection of commencement speakers of any college or university in the country. You can’t name a school that can include a comparable line-up like Michelle Obama, Denzel Washington, Chance the Rapper, Terrence J., Janelle Monae, and Regina Hall in a seven-year period. When you set the bar that high it becomes even more of a challenge.
My preference is to have someone who has never done a commencement speech because I want it to be unique. The obvious exceptions would be someone like the forever First Lady. Denzel has only done 2 (Penn the other) so that counts as unique to me. Our students love celebrities, but the challenge is most aren’t interested in commencement speeches, and those that do want corporate money. There are rich schools that gladly shell out $100,000 for commencement speakers.
But I have no idea of any HBCUs that are rolling like that. I depend on a close group of agents that I have cultivated over the years to help me find cool speakers that I can afford. The relationship is important. I have had speakers that others have tried to secure afterwards, and the honorarium quoted for them was many times more than I paid.
So, planning for 2021 I started going through the list of student suggestions (which every year includes President Obama and I keep telling folks he has not done one in person since he left office) and Oprah (who recently has only given speeches where one of her girls from her school in Africa is graduating).
I had 2 different agents mention Michael Ealy. Of course, he played the iconic Ricky in the Barbershop movies, but he has had a diverse list of acting projects over the years, both small screen and major motion pictures. He graduated from the University of Maryland as well, so that adds credibility for people who wonder what could he possibly have to say?
And let me tell you, that question was asked A LOT! People wanted to know what criteria I used for speakers, why was he selected, was he significant enough or scholarly to justify the invitation.
To be fair, there were a lot of happy people. This particular tweet went viral- 2 million views, 110K likes! (You don’t get that with your run of the mill commencement speaker…)
I can easily get some elected official to speak (which is free), but no one gets graduates and families excited (unless it is Obama), and most of the time those speeches are boring. You know I’m right. But in terms of respectability politics, you can’t go wrong with an elected official.
I took a chance. Just like I did with Chance! My wife said it best — people came for the eye candy, but what they got was meat and potatoes. You know a speaker is good when FACULTY members comment afterwards that his speech may have been the best we’ve had (remember we had both Michelle AND Denzel). I sat there thinking this guy is channeling Malcolm X and Fred Hampton, giving a conscious speech that no one expected from an actor. You simply could not become disengaged; he kept you drawn in.
If you find the right person, the event has meaning for the speaker as well. His Instagram post was powerful. He clearly articulated the magic of an HBCU commencement.
For the 7th notable of 2021, I chose Michael Ealy. Just watch and you’ll see why.