Preparation for Hampton U. Opening Convocation present challenges

By Jade Banks

To the graduating senior class and student body at Hampton University, Opening Convocation is just the prelude to graduation. Today’s event that marks the official opening of the academic school year and allows President William R. Harvey, the senior class president, and a featured speaker the chance to offer a encouraging words to the senior class as they embark on their journey to graduation.

Preparation for the event goes farther than the seniors picking up their cap and gown at McGrew Towers, especially for the few selected individuals who make Opening Convocation possible.

“Opening Convocation is an event that calls for a lot of planning,” said Karen Turner Ward, Ph.D., chairwoman of the Fine Performing Arts Department as well the chair of the committee of Ceremonial Occasions. “A lot goes into making a memorable event for the senior class,” she said.

Ward has been on the committee for nearly two decades before leading the committee five years ago. She is responsible for orchestrating both Opening Convocation and Commencement, including the May 2010 Commencement ceremony that featured U.S. President Barack Obama.

“Every commencement is special for me,” said Ward, “But actually being instrumental in the planning of a commencement where a sitting president – the first African-American president –

would be giving the commencement address, was undoubtedly one of my favorite moments at Hampton.”

After conducting such a monumental commencement, Ward is focusing on making this year just as memorable for the senior class, starting with Opening Convocation.

“There is a lot of attention to detail,” she said, “from the music selection to submitting the press releases to media outlets. Every detail matters.”

However, the most challenging aspect of planning Opening Convocation is selecting a speaker.

“The challenge of finding a speaker is finding a speaker that has a strong message for the graduates,” said Ward, “One that will charge the graduates to be successful during their senior year and beyond. The speaker also must be relevant to the mission of the university”

This year’s speaker will be John Ruffin, Ph.D., director of the National Center on Minority Health and Disparities.

Charrita Danley, Ph.D., the executive assistant to the president of Hampton University, said Ruffin was chosen for this year’s Opening Convocation because of the university’s focus on health issues.

“The university is currently involved in expanding its research capabilities and addressing health issues particularly relevant in the African-American community.” said Danley, “Ruffin’s position is relative to those efforts and his expertise can provide us with necessary information.”

This month the Hampton University Proton Therapy Institute opened. The institute is the eighth largest of all U.S. centers and treated its first patient in late August. 

Ruffin’s message is anticipated to be well received by the students.

“Our hope is that Dr. Ruffin’s message will inspire our students, especially our seniors,’ said Ward. “He will encourage them to go out and make a difference in the world with regards to health issues, specifically within the African-American community.”           

The writer is a senior in the Scripps Howard School of Journalism and Communications.