Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs emerged victorious once again. You can now address him as Dr. Combs.
Howard University, the prestigious historically black institution of education stationed in Northwest D.C. since 1867, is known for its notable alumni and celebrated homecoming festivities. Despite the attention it receives, Howard’s homecoming is far less important in magnitude than another annual occurrence: Graduation. On Saturday, one of its most renowned former students, Sean "Puff Daddy" Combs, delivered the convocation oration and was awarded an honorary Doctorate of Humanities. Of all his name changes, including the recent switch back to "Puff Daddy," the christening of Dr. Sean Combs is the most powerful. Furthermore, all controversy regarding his appointment as graduation speaker fizzled out, because Combs did what he's always done in the end—succeeded.
The announcement that Combs would serve as the speaker at Howard’s 146th Commencement ceremony was met with skepticism. On one hand, there was the ecstatic graduating class who can now stake a claim in the "Who had the best graduation speaker?" debate. This group bleeds over into the next category: Combs supporters who were just happy to see the man add something else to an already impressive resume. But there was also the crowd who didn’t believe Combs was an appropriate selection as a graduation speaker for frivolous reasons.
After completing two years at Howard, Combs dropped out in 1990. The former business major made the decision to take the once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to work for Andre Harrell’s Uptown Records. For some, Combs' status as a college dropout destroyed his credibility as a college graduation speaker. Do the same people recall that Oprah Winfrey, the 2007 commencement speaker, dropped out of Tennessee State University in 1976 to start her career? Or how about the fact that Maya Angelou, another previous speaker, never even went to college. In the end, the massive controversy surrounding his selection was unwarranted, because he proved to be the best person for the job.
By selecting Combs, Howard picked the ideal speaker in terms of relevance to the audience and university. Students still flock to Howard inspired by Combs and the empire he’s built. He's a relatable figure, someone who could truly rouse graduates with his words of motivation, and because of their shared experience. The fact that Sean Combs never completed his undergraduate studies at Howard is irrelevant. It didn't stop him from conquering life in various avenues, just like it didn't stop him from fulfilling his responsibility as commencement speaker, which was reaching listeners. The critics, who he’s shot past in life, can't take that away from him. Also, considering Howard's recent financial struggles and previous president Dr. Sidney Ribeau's sudden election to step down early in the school year, this was a perfect way to end it on a high note.
"I want to thank everyone who made it possible for me to come back home," Combs said. Interim Howard University President Dr. Wayne Frederick introduced Combs as a "son of Howard," and Combs himself said the Howard community—from professors to classmates—became his family when he was in need. Even if you set out on a journey—like college, for example—you can always come home to your family. Speaking of family, Combs said that learning the true nature of his father’s death in a drug deal gone awry while at Howard was a pivotal moment in his life.
"I made a conscious effort to follow the entrepreneurial spirit of my father, the legal way," he said. That led to his decision to take the opportunity at Uptown Records, a decision he revealed that his Howard professors supported. The decision to leave school isn’t an easy one. I watched people do it during my time at Howard, and it didn’t always work out for them. Saying Combs' decision paid off is quite the understatement, so that’s even more reason for the Howard community to celebrate his success. That, and the fact that he credits those two years at Howard with shaping who he is.