2023 Opening Convocation: President Ben Vinson III Promises Howard University at ‘Maximum Strength’

By: Howard University

WASHINGTON – Ben Vinson III, Ph.D., delivering his first major address as president of Howard University, committed himself to the institution’s historic mission and values while promising a new era of lifting Howard to its “maximum strength.”

Dr. Vinson served as the speaker for the 156th Opening Convocation on September 15 before a packed house in Cramton Auditorium. Convocation is a time-honored tradition that officially signals the beginning of the academic year. As he began his address, Dr. Vinson extended a special welcome to the Class of 2027, adding that, like them, he too was new to Howard University and excited about what lies ahead.

Dr. Vinson, who took the helm of Howard University as the 18th president on September 1, said Howard University was stronger today than during any point in history. He listed historic application and enrollment numbers, record-setting fundraising, peak endowment numbers, and faculty research and scholarship that was “absolutely sizzling.”  But Dr. Vinson encouraged the Howard community to raise its sights even higher. 

“There is another level for us to reach: Is the strongest we’ve ever been, the strongest we can absolutely be?” he asked. “I believe our collective vision is to aim even greater. I will do everything in my power to steward us there.”

During the event, which included remarks from Board of Trustees Chairman Larry Morse and stirring performances from the Howard University Concert Chorale, a bit of history was made when Nia Naylor, president of the Howard University Student Association, became the first student government leader to bring remarks during an opening convocation.

Dr. Vinson is an accomplished historian of Latin America, particularly Mexico, and will serve on the Howard faculty as a tenured professor in the College of Arts and Sciences. In his remarks, Dr. Vinson spoke about his eclectic background.  Born in Rapid City, South Dakota to an Air Force serviceman and an elementary school teacher, both parents, he said, hailed from Alabama and from families of coal miners and sharecroppers. Because of his father’s military service, Dr. Vinson spent part of his childhood growing up in a small town in Italy, near Vicenza.

“I grew up knowing two worlds. I grew up in a diaspora, and that experience has profoundly shaped me,” Dr. Vinson said. “The questions that I developed being Black abroad inspired me into thinking about Blackness throughout the world.”

 Dr. Vinson mentioned leveraging Howard’s connections between the African continent, the greater Caribbean, Latin America, Black America, and elsewhere to become powerful partners “in elevating the totality of the Black experience” into the far corners of the globe and “every place where Black lives are marginalized.”

Before Howard University, Dr. Vinson most recently served as provost and executive vice president at Case Western Reserve University in Cleveland, Ohio. During his tenure there, he spearheaded that university’s “Think Big” strategic planning initiative which received national attention for its innovative and inclusive planning process. Vinson has also served on the faculty of Barnard College, Pennsylvania State University, and  Johns Hopkins University where he was founding director of its Center for Africana Studies.

During his address, Dr. Vinson said he has always been “spellbound” by Howard University.

He recalled visiting Howard’s campus with his mother and being impressed by a student carrying a briefcase walking through campus.

“He was walking faster than anyone I’d seen walking around normally, absolutely filled with purpose,” Dr. Vinson said. “It was clear this was a student who had places to go, people to see, something to accomplish, and nothing stood in his way. That image of accomplishment, drive, and determination never left me. It has always defined to me what Howard University is in thought and in action.”

About Howard University

Founded in 1867, Howard University is a private, research university that is comprised of 14 schools and colleges. Students pursue more than 140 programs of study leading to undergraduate, graduate, and professional degrees. The University operates with a commitment to Excellence in Truth and Service and has produced two Schwarzman Scholars, four Marshall Scholars, four Rhodes Scholars, 12 Truman Scholars, 25 Pickering Fellows, and more than 165 Fulbright recipients. Howard also produces more on-campus African-American Ph.D. recipients than any other university in the United States. For more information on Howard University, visit www.howard.edu.

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