Arriana McLymore | Editor-in-chief
Hampton University’s 73rd annual Opening Convocation kicked off with a procession of eager seniors, the sounds of the University’s choir and an introduction by the chairperson of the Committee of Ceremonial Occasions, Dr. Karen Turner-Ward. Opening Convocation serves as the official start of the school year. It is a time for seniors to reflect on their time at Hampton University, while gaining inspiration for their future from fellow peers and guest speakers.
This year’s keynote speaker was the President Emeritus of Xavier University of Louisiana, Dr. Norman C. Francis. Francis has been affiliated with Xavier University for more than 60 years. He served as the university’s president for 47 years, the longest of any university president in the United States. “President Emeritus Francis is a legend in higher education,” said Dr. Turner-Ward. “He has contributed to so many people being able to follow their dreams.”
One of the many people Dr. Francis has inspired is the president of Hampton University, Dr. William R. Harvey. “Having always been a student of leadership, I wanted to gain additional, first-hand knowledge of how to successfully lead an institution of higher education from someone who is doing it and doing it well,” said Dr. Harvey. “That someone whom I chose first was Dr. Norman C. Francis.”
Dr. Harvey went on to shadow Dr. Francis for a day at Xavier University before becoming the president of Hampton University. The two later developed a friendship that would last for decades. “Dr. Norman Francis has proven to be a friend, a leader, a counselor [and] a mentor to me for all these years,” said Dr. Harvey.
In June, Francis was awarded the title of President Emeritus by the Xavier University of Louisiana Board of Trustees. The name is given to individuals who have served the university in an exceptional capacity. “Dr. Francis has left an everlasting mark upon this university, and thus, it is fitting that the Board grant him this perpetual honor” said Michael Rue, the chairman of Xavier’s Board of Trustees.
Under Francis’ leadership Xavier University’s enrollment has tripled and its endowment has increased from $20 million to more than $160 million. The university now leads the nation in sending African- American students to medical school. Xavier University also known for awarding more Doctorate of Pharmacy degrees to African-American’s than any other institution in the nation.
Dr. Francis’ greatest challenge came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans and flooded Xavier’s campus. Francis led efforts to rebuild and rapidly reopen the university, which resumed classes in less than six months. “It is a significant landmark [having Dr. Francis],” said Dr. Turner-Ward. “Hampton University, during that time, accepted students from various schools that had been affected by Hurricane Katrina. We supported them and we supported the students and we supported the areas.”
Dr. Francis opened up his keynote address describing life when the decision of Plessy versus Ferguson reigned supreme. He went on to tell about growing up in Louisiana as a poor Black man with a thirst for education and greatness. “Throughout that time, I never lost faith in myself, I never lost faith my God, and I never lost faith in my country,” said Dr. Francis.
Francis went on to present seven topics to the class of 2019. He spoke about leadership, commitment to service, disparities in the quality of life, poverty, quality education as a civil rights issue, the difference between equality and equity and the importance of historically Black colleges and universities in today’s society. “You are the change agents; you are going to be the ones who are going to make the difference,” said Dr. Francis in his closing remarks.
During Hampton’s Opening Convocation Dr. Francis was conferred with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters and received a standing ovation for his legacy.