Calvin Butler: If I Can Do It, So Can You


Exactly 60 years after the Supreme Court struck down the fallacy of the “separate but equal” doctrine as it applied to public education in the United States, 1,300 beneficiaries of that legacy received degrees at Morgan State University’s 138th spring commencement ceremony, May 17.

The spirit of the landmark Brown v. Board of Education decision covered the entire exercise—evident in the attendance of the 50th anniversary class, the Class of 1964, in gold caps and gowns; and in the speeches of the ceremony’s two main guests, who were the first African Americans to serve in their respective positions — Calvin G. Butler Jr. as CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Co., and Eric H. Holder Jr., as U.S. attorney general.

Butler, the commencement speaker, gave a particularly moving address that seemed to resonate with the audience. A first-generation college student, Butler told the graduates about the failures he experienced on his way to his current position as head of the nation’s oldest gas utility.

“If I can do it, so can you,” Butler encouraged. “With such a rich history and strong foundation, how can you…as a proud graduate of Morgan State, not believe in the power of you?”

In the wake of Butler’s stirring remarks, the attorney general took to the stage to commemorate the 60th anniversary of {Brown}, which dismantled the foundation of racial segregation.

Holder praised the courageous young men and women who fought for equality and civil rights and made equal access to a quality education possible for the college graduates of today.

“Of course, if that era seems like ancient history to you, that’s only because your forebears – including members of the Class of 1964 who are with us today – came together to make it ancient history,” Holder said. “…Thanks to Brown and those who made it possible, your generation will never know a world in which ‘separate but equal’ was the law of the land.”

Holder went on to tell the graduates that like their predecessors, they need to give back to their communities and fight those things that threaten equal opportunity, including policies that undermine equality “in fact, if not in form.”

“Today, as you walk across this stage, each of you will take your rightful place as heirs of these pioneers,” he said. “Strive to live up to the singular legacy that belongs to each Morgan graduate by virtue of the history you now inherit, the milestone anniversary we observe today, and the profound sacrifices endured by the trailblazers on whose shoulders you now stand.”

Following Holder’s address, Briana Bobbitt, secretary of Morgan’s senior class, delivered the farewell address with aplomb. Her four-part message to her classmates was never to be comfortable with their accomplishments, never to give up, never to accept limitations that others try to impose and never to be afraid of failure.

President Wilson and Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the MSU Board of Regents, conferred honorary doctorates to Butler, Holder, theoretical physicist Sylvester J. Gates Jr.; founder, president and CEO of the Center for Urban Families Joseph T. Jones Jr. and 2014 Alumnus of the Year Carl W. Turnipseed (Class of ’69), who retired in 2012 as executive vice president of the Financial Services Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.

In his closing remarks, MSU President David Wilson told the new graduates, including a record 52 doctoral candidates, the University had deliberately tested their ability and resolve to succeed in higher education, “and we have dared you to dream dreams bigger than those you had when you entered Fair Morgan…. We are really proud of each and every one of you here at Morgan, and we look forward to hearing of the incredible success that we all know will come your way.”

Morgan State University writer Eric Addison contributed to this story.

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Calvin Butler: If I Can Do It, So Can You

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