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What an amazing day!

12 May 2016 at 03:07 | 1639 views


By Dr. Nanah Sheriff Fofanah-Sesay, Virginia, USA.

Watching the president of the United States of America giving a live keynote speech in a commencement ceremony and receiving an award on behalf of a noble man from one of the most prestigious Sierra Leone organizations in North America does not come too often; however, this was a reality for me on Saturday May 7, 2016.

The story of this amazing day began when I received an alumni generated e-mail from Howard University, one week prior to the 2016 commencement ceremony. The purpose of this e-mail was to inform alumni of the upcoming commencement ceremony while highlighting the presence of President Barack Obama as the keynote speaker.

Howard University, as I have known it as a graduate student and as an alumna, has open door policies to commencement ceremonies especially to its students and alumni. As such, it did not initially occur to me that tickets will be required to gain access into the ceremony this time around until 48 hours prior to the event.

At that moment, I began to reach out to fellow alumni, the alumni office and my former director of the Nurse Practitioner’s (NP) program. In addition, I wrote on my Facebook page soliciting ticket/s from potential donors.

One of the alumni and my former NP preceptor lamented over the fact that if I had contacted her earlier, she would have secured a ticket on my behalf. My former NP director (Dr. Montague) urged me to attend and reminded me of the possibilities of obtaining tickets from one of the alumni.

A proud Howard University alumna.

Despite preparation from the previous night for an early rise in search of tickets on campus, the activities of the previous day prevented me from waking up as early as I had anticipated. Fortunately for me, the ringing of my cell phone awakened me at exactly 7 am.

A cross section of the attendees at the Howard University 2016 commencement ceremony.

The call was answered with a question rather than the normal “Hello.” Are you going to the commencement ceremony?

The caller replied: “I’m already on line and have been since 6 am.” This prompted me to dress up as quickly as I can. Keep in mind that there was no ticket in my possession neither did I have concrete resources of obtaining one.

Upon arrival at the university at approximately 8:30 am, I was amazed at the mammoth crowd of people, cars, police officers, secret service agents, vendors, hot dog stands, flower stands, and more.

It took me 45 minutes to locate parking space. This space was 1.5 miles away from the event sites. As I was making my entrance into the campus, a light-skinned African American lady and a Howard alumna approached me with an offer for an extra ticket into the green stadium, an offer that was graciously accepted.

My main goal was to gain access into the main stadium, where I could see the president up close but considering the circumstances, any offer will suffice at this point. Upon receipt of the ticket, I was directed by one of the police officers to the appropriate entrance which entailed walking another 15 minutes. All campus entrances were guarded by police officers, the sidewalks on Georgia Avenue were all saturated with vendors, attendees, and police officers. Entrance into the event sites was preceded by thorough security screening in the same manner as the screening done at airports.

With all these hurdles, I was able to complete security screening after requesting one of the police officers to take a few photos of me from my cell phone.

The arrival of President Barack Obama was quite visible to all attendees as the buzzing sound of helicopters came from the sky above us.

Saying this commencement ceremony is one of the most unique and prestigious ceremonies Howard University has ever experienced will be an understatement. The president of the university (Dr. Wayne Frederick) delivered a moving welcome speech followed by Dr. Bernard Richardson who reiterated to Howard graduates and alumni that “To whom much is given, much is expected.”

The Chairman’s greetings was delivered by Stacey .J. Mobley, Esq followed by the student welcome speech by Queenate Chinweokwu Ibeto from the School of Dentistry. Honorary degrees were conferred to Dr. L.D. Britt, MPH, Ambassador Horace G. Dowson, Emmy award actress Cicely Tyson, and President Barack Obama.

All honorary recipients gave rousing speeches; however, the climax of the ceremony took place when President Barack Obama began to speak. His speech was about guidance to the graduates, explanation of challenges around the world, the significance of education, responsibilities and giving back to society.

The conferment of degrees was followed by the president’s speech.

While making my exit from the campus, there were helicopters circling the sky and an unbelievable crowd of people, private cars and police cruisers making their exit as well. Overall, the experience from this commencement ceremony was well worth my effort.

The second half of this amazing day was spent at the National Organization of Sierra Leoneans in North America (NOSLINA) annual awards ceremony in Silver Spring, Maryland. This was where Mr. Ibrahim Kamara (APC-USA Chairman), Mr. Felix Sesay and myself were in attendance to accept the entrepreneurial leadership award on behalf of the founder and publisher of the Patriotic Vanguard Online Newspaper (Mr. Gibril G. Koroma).

Felix Foday Sesay and myself at the NOSLINA event.

The ceremony was well attended by Sierra Leone’s most popular and brightest. The highlight of this occasion was when we accepted the award followed by an eloquent acceptance speech by Mr. Ibrahim Kamara on behalf of the recipient.

The NOSLINA annual award ceremony reminded me of endless possibilities that Sierra Leoneans in North America and beyond are amendable to and an inspiration from those who are actually engaged in these endless possibilities.

As this amazing day came to a close, the phrases “To whom much is given, much is expected,” and “Sierra Leone’s most popular and brightest" resonated in my mind.

This article is dedicated to the president, trustees, faculties, students, and alumni of Howard University and to the readers of the Patriotic Vanguard all over the world.