LEGITIMATIZING DIDDY: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE WHAT A COLLEGE DROPOUT CAN TEACH A GRADUATING CLASS
Sean ‘P. Diddy’ Combs, now Dr. Combs, delivered the commencement speech at Howard University’s 2014 Graduation. Prior to the graduation ceremony, many were opposed to Diddy being the selection. The argument was that he was not a positive example for encouraging the graduates to embrace dreams and the “real world”. Well, he changed a lot of minds. Many people were quick to erace the hate and hop on the bandwagon. Read this story from Howard graduate, Christina Coleman.
LEGITIMATIZING DIDDY: NEVER UNDERESTIMATE WHAT A COLLEGE DROPOUT CAN TEACH A GRADUATING CLASS
There’s something so spectacular about seeing Howard University’s “Yard,” fecund and green, immediately slipping off the grey’s of winter to reveal the focal point of Washington D.C. academics, Founders Library, as it sits atop a hill, vibrant in historic brown hue.
In short, when spring hits, Howard pops. Urbanized verbiage aside, it literally bursts open to confess all that winter blankets hid– Greeks who previously stalked the night shrouded in hoodies get to finally stroll across the yard, bolded letters printed in crimson, pink, golds, purple and blue. Scholars emerge from library stacks to lay crochet blankets down and discuss Teju Cole’s latest in front of Frederick Douglass Hall. Fine Arts students dance interpretively in Howard’s manicured lawn and fashion lovers, the fabled archetypal Howard student, sit on newly erected bleachers to discuss topics far less conspicuous than Kanye’s leather jogging pants.
It’s a seasonal act, a familiar ritual gearing up for final grades, tedious testing and for those staring at the black bleachers littering the yard in preparation for a commencement ceremony, getting the hell out of dodge.
It’s graduation season.
And as spring days pass and May approaches, undergrad-nostalgia and excitement amplify to stifling levels – the anxiety of not relying on college to justify yet another internship or to avoid the imminent Sallie Mae hurtling towards you – almost graduates entrust the most unlikely of sources to ease them from carefree college student to work-force adulthood.
The commencement speaker.
But for Howard University class of 2014, that last pep talk before being thrown in a low-paying, non-existing middle class, fucked up American economy will be delivered, ceremoniously, from a product of the same university who was, upon announcement of his speech, unceremoniously targeted for his legitimacy as a recipient of an honorary degree – Sean “Diddy” Combs.
It’s a nuanced debate, whether a man who dropped out of the historically black college to pursue his career in music is of the same caliber as past commencement speaker’s. Is it questionable to have Combs who, one can argue, has merely mentioned his unofficial alma mater in songs instead of actively participating as the university faces some of its toughest financial and branding years, give his “academic” advice? Can a man worth $580 million take the stage in front of hundreds of in-debt graduates and tell them, “You can do it if I could?”
Where are the lines being drawn? What is the standard?
To tackle that first argument, supporters of Comb’s newest charge have pointed out that moguls, icons and millionaires like Steve Jobs and Bill Gates were also welcomed back to their unofficial alma maters after dropping out of school.
Musical artists, actresses and actors have long been recipients of the university’s coveted degrees. But Comb’s, who many readily accept to host a party or give a shout out, is somehow shelled out of the realm of successful individuals who have made it without higher education.
Apparently, computers and Apple products are much more appropriate than hip-hop music’s popularized patriarchal content.
Let’s talk respectability politics, shall we?
In a Huffington Post article titled, “P. Diddy — Likely Wrong Choice for Howard U. Commencement Address,” author Morris W. O’Kelly said this to counter the argument regarding drop-outs leading graduating classes in commencement:
Steve Jobs and Bill Gates forever changed the world. Sean Combs temporarily changed R&B music over the course of 15 years through the tools of misogyny and all things antithetical to educational attainments. Let’s keep this in its proper perspective and not make false equivocations….
But beyond expressing the importance of education in their general commentaries, Jobs and Gates specifically don’t have any of their money tied to calling Black women b******, h*** or black men N****. Accountability matters in the assessment of “successful” careers. Otherwise, notorious DC druglord Rayful Edmond is equally suitable as a potential commencement speaker.
If we’re to be fair, accountability is certainly important when discussing successful careers, especially when deciding if one will subscribe to the French slogan of “art for art’s sake,” and dismiss any didactic needs whatsoever. And honestly, black cultures relationship with hip-hop is storied with love, hate, and feelings of loss after universities took to popularizing the art in courses, most times without appropriate authority and without addressing the problematic irony of teaching hip-hop to an audience largely absent of black people.
These things are true. Frankly, we’re all not here for hip-hop’s degrading bravado. But we are here for popular culture accepting the black men and women, like Comb’s, who fuel and cultivate the same culture they wish to package in a curriculum. America, you can’t be that selective. If we are to teach hip-hop, we can certainly have one of its most successful moguls speak to our students, no?
Additionally Comb’s legitimacy can’t be ignored. At a university that was created in the midst of exclusion to educate people of color, who is to say Comb’s contributions to black culture have not changed our world?
Let’s start from the bottom.
What makes Comb’s story so special wasn’t his rise to the top as a drop out. It’s his rise to the top as a black man…who dropped out. And frankly, if we’re to compare Jobs, Gates and Comb’s, let’s get one thing clear – their starting points were not the same. There’s this thing called “privilege.” And Comb’s effect on this world was not succinct to R&B and is certainly not temporary overall. He, for lack of better words, changed the game.
After dropping out of Howard University following two years as a business major, Comb’s became an intern at Uptown Records, under founder Andre Harrell. After developing some of Uptown’s most popular acts like Mary J. Blige, Comb’s was let go and promptly created Bad Boy Records. His musical success flourished as the years followed. But setting himself apart from many rappers and producers, Comb’s perfected the art of business. Whether it’s his Sean Jean clothing line, the unprecedented Revolt TV, or popularizing the “Vote Or Die” campaign that bolstered the numbers of young voter registration (and led to Barack Obama’s presidential win), Howard University is still at the helm of Comb’s success story as a business school drop- out.
We watched what two years at the historic school did for Comb’s. We also watched how his hustle, no doubt developed from haggling with administration at Howard, begging professors for overrides into their full classes or scheming on how to get to school in D.C. and your internship in New York, aided in his overall victory.
Unfortunately, that last anecdote probably won’t mean anything to you if you haven’t done the Howard Hustle. It’s just our thing,
But isn’t demonizing and excluding Comb’s from academia for his musical content, or because he didn’t make his money as a lawyer or doctor, a nuanced way to say this subset of black culture isn’t good enough for Howard University?
Must we even address the irony?
To turn away our own is to make a big mistake. And certainly at a time where the university needs the resources and attention that a mogul like Comb’s can (and has) provided, the Howard community should be cultivating a relationship with their own, with a product of their environment.
Outsiders, armed with invective, are sure to continue the vitriol on Comb’s with veiled dissent spelling out his “unworthiness.” But, dare I say it, holding our own to such a standard and having Comb’s as a commencement speaker is the most Howard thing Howard has done in a while.
After all, weren’t we created to give people of color a safe place to learn and grow from other people of color, without the pressure of existing in a white, exclusionary space? Wouldn’t a speech about the importance of education and how Howard University contributed to Comb’s multi-faceted entrepreneurial spirit cross more nuanced lines than Gates treading through his own success story?
It’s just a thought.
Like O’Kelly said in his scathing op-ed in the Huffington Post:
Howard University doesn’t need anyone suggesting to its majority African-American graduates that everyone can be a multi-millionaire rap music producer or that it’s admirable to make hundreds of millions defiling and debasing those in your own community.
He’s right. But Howard University does need someone suggesting to its African-American graduates that he couldn’t have made it without the knowledge he acquired at the esteemed college, and, possibly, insight to navigating in this faux “post-racial” world as educated black people.
And for that, I’m certain Bill Gates couldn’t provide any insight or advice.
Here’s the link to the original article http://saintheron.com/art/legitimatizing-diddy/
Eracist, Christina Coleman is a News Editor at Global Grind and Contributor to Saint Heron.
WATCH THE SPEECH HERE