Celebrate the Class of 2020 #UndefeatedHBCUDay

Former president Barack Obama, HBCU grads, famous alumni and supporters share inspirational messages in midst of pandemic

Graduations were canceled. Ceremonies postponed. The COVID-19 pandemic forced many to find different ways to celebrate monumental achievements. Graduates of historically black colleges and universities (HBCUs) aren’t letting the moment pass, and The Undefeated is here to help them mark the occasion.

More than 20 valedictorians and student ambassadors from HBCUs recorded inspirational messages for their fellow graduates that will be shared across our social platforms throughout the day. They won’t be alone, as 20 notable HBCU grads, supporters and dignitaries also recorded messages of encouragement for the Class of 2020.

All of videos from the day are featured below.

A virtual toast: Celebrating the HBCU Class of 2020

Barack Obama


Diamond Lyles

Hometown: Waldorf, Maryland

Academic highlight: Earned a bachelor’s degree in criminal justice with a concentration on forensic science, and served as the school’s senior class president.

My HBCU story: “When I toured all the schools I got accepted into, the only place I felt comfortable at was Bowie State University. … If I told my younger self all the things I would accomplish at Bowie State, she would look at me like I was crazy. … I’m more confident, outgoing and determined to achieve the unthinkable. Overall, my institution has taught me so much about advocating for others, embracing many cultures, developing strong friendships and so much more. I’m so glad I had the experience of attending such an illustrious HBCU and I will forever bleed that black and gold.”

What’s next:
Attending graduate school in the fall to study crime scene investigation.

Toni Braxton

Quick fact: Toni Braxton graduated from Bowie State University and is a multi-Grammy Award-winning artist and actress.

Cheyney University

Arynn Pratt

Hometown: McKeesport, Pennsylvania
Academic highlight: Earned bachelor’s degrees in biology (pre-med) and another in psychology in just four years, while also becoming the school’s 2020 valedictorian and an appointed member on the Pennsylvania State Board of Education.
My HBCU story: “I initially decided to come to Cheyney University because I was awarded a four-year academic scholarship covering full tuition and room and board through the university’s honors program, Keystone Honors Academy. What I didn’t know is how much I would gain from attending the first HBCU. Throughout my four years, I have gained leadership skills, a plethora of professional experiences, countless networks and a wealth of confidence in myself and my academic and professional abilities. I came for financial security but left with so much more!”
What’s next: Will work in her field while taking a gap year to prepare medical school applications.


Angel Hague

Hometown: Lansing, Michigan
Academic highlight: Earned bachelor’s degree in political science, graduating valedictorian of the university.
My HBCU story: “I didn’t know I was going to attend an HBCU, but looking back, I feel great about it. I made a lot of life connections, learned a lot about myself. … It’s empowering to be surrounded by so many people who look like you and have the same goals as you.”
What’s next: Taking a year off and then plans to attend law school.


Markayla Brooks

Hometown: Columbus, Ohio
Academic highlight: Graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in mass media arts and was a member of the Honor Society of Phi Kappa Phi.
My HBCU story: “The first time I stepped foot on the Clark Atlanta University campus, I was 4 years old. My mother used to host annual HBCU college tours. My experience at CAU has been life-changing, and I am forever grateful for all that CAU has poured into me as a scholar and black woman.”
What’s next: Taking some time off from academics, but plans to pursue a master’s in sports journalism.

Omar Epps

Quick fact: Omar Epps is an actor with a storied career that includes popular movies such as the romantic drama Love & Basketball.


Veronica McCoy

Hometown: Baltimore
Academic highlight: Earned a bachelor’s degree in social work while serving as senior class president and maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
My HBCU story: “I chose to attend Coppin because of its rich history. It has shaped my life because of the examples of excellence I’m surrounded by, inspiring me to reach beyond my expectations. The relationships I have built with colleagues, professors and other resources are at my disposal and are endless. I love my HBCU, and because of this love I look forward to my future.”
What’s next: Will be attending Salisbury University to pursue a master’s degree in social work.


Usman Tijani

Hometown: Willingboro, New Jersey
Academic highlight: Earned bachelor’s degree in management with a concentration in marketing, and was a Forbes 30 Under 30 scholar and SGA president.
My HBCU story: “I chose Delaware State University because of an open house I attended; the culture and energy of the campus drew me in immediately.”
What’s next: Starting job as an analyst for JPMorgan Chase in Plano, Texas, and continuing to develop his clothing brand, S.L.U.M. LLC.


Rochard Moricette

Hometown: Fort Lauderdale, Florida
Academic highlight: Earned a bachelor’s degree in agribusiness, graduating magna cum laude.
My HBCU story: “I made the decision to start my postsecondary education journey at the illustrious Florida A&M University because of the ample opportunities it provided and unwavering commitment to academic excellence. The university’s motto is ‘Excellence with Caring,’ and during my matriculation, the university has never deviated from this motto. In fact, that motto is very fabric of the FAMU culture, a culture that is composed of unpretentious interactions and unmatched support from faculty and staff. Florida A&M University teaches its students how to be bold in the face of adversity and how to never settle for life’s double standards as a minority.”
What’s next: Starting job as a companion animal pharmaceutical sales rep with Elanco Animal Health.


Jonathan Mack

Hometown: Virginia Beach, Virginia
Academic highlight: Maintaining dean’s list honors every semester while graduating from the honors college with a degree in kinesiology.
My HBCU story: “I chose to attend Hampton because of the family atmosphere as well as a plethora of opportunities for growth. Though I didn’t know exactly how everything would unfold, I knew I wanted to make a lasting impact during my Hampton tenure. This desire allowed me to form many bonds, as well as the opportunity to serve in various roles such as student government association president, a member of the student leadership program, as well as several other organizations and positions throughout my time. My goal was to give Hampton my best; in return, my HBCU gave me tools and skill sets that will last long after the end of my undergraduate tenure that I am forever appreciative for.”
What’s next: Will enroll in Virginia Commonwealth University’s physical therapy doctoral program in pursuit of his goal to become a doctor.

Kay C. James

Quick fact: Kay C. James is a Hampton University graduate and president of the Heritage Foundation.

Trevor Jackson

Quick fact: Trevor Jackson is an actor and rapper who stars in the Freeform sitcom grown-ish.


Tia Humphries

Hometown: Orlando, Florida
Academic highlight: Howard University’s Cathy Hughes School of Communications Exemplar Student for broadcast journalism and sports editor for The Hilltop.
My HBCU story: “I was raised in an HBCU household, but initially wanted to be ‘different.’ I toured several PWIs [predominantly white institutions], but none of them felt like I belong. Ten minutes into my tour at Howard and I knew I was home. Howard has challenged me in more ways than one, but without the Mecca I wouldn’t be the person I am today.”
What’s next: Applying for jobs in the field of journalism then going back to pursue master’s degree in two years.

Anthony Anderson

Quick fact: Anthony Anderson, a Howard University graduate, is an executive producer and one of the lead actors on ABC’s prime-time series black-ish.

Antoine Bethea

Quick fact: Antoine Bethea graduated from Howard University and is an NFL safety, three-time Pro Bowler and won Super Bowl XLI with the Indianapolis Colts.

Kamala Harris

Quick fact: Kamala Harris, a senator who represents California, is a graduate of Howard University and was a Democratic candidate for the 2020 presidential election.

Stan Verrett

Quick fact: Stan Verrett is a graduate of Howard University and has been an ESPN SportsCenter anchor since 2009.


Jordyn Adams

Hometown: Pittsburgh
Academic highlight: Class valedictorian, earning a bachelor’s degree in strategic communications.
My HBCU story: “Lincoln was the first place I felt encouraged and empowered enough to be a leader. The campus atmosphere was so affirming and supportive. You could count on everyone, from professors, staff and peers to not only acknowledge your gifts but find ways to nurture them too. … Lincoln University is solely responsible for the leader I am today, but even more so, the mature, confident and well-rounded individual the experience shaped me to be. The biggest lesson wasn’t how to ‘be in charge’ but how to believe I have the ability to.”
What’s next: Graduate school at the University of Cincinnati, studying media, identity and culture.


John William McCall III

Hometown: Sidon, Mississippi
Academic highlight: Earned degree in mass communications and was recognized as the valedictorian of his class.
My HBCU story: “Enriched with much history, Mississippi Valley State University over the past four years has truly been a blessing to me, where I have networked with great people, received numerous opportunities to hone my craft with respect to the arts and represented my illustrious institution in astonishing ways.”
What’s next: Study film at the graduate level.

Jerry Rice

Quick fact: Jerry Rice is a graduate of Mississippi Valley State University, a Hall of Fame wide receiver and three-time Super Bowl champion with the San Francisco 49ers.


Micah Holmes

Hometown: Cleveland
Academic highlight: Top graduate in the business management department and earned dean’s list honors every semester.
My HBCU story: “I attended Morehouse College as a wish for my Aunt Brenda, who passed away in 2013. She always spoke of Morehouse College as being a place that transformed young black men into world leaders, but I didn’t see the vision until she passed. Morehouse College became the only school I applied to, and it became the best decision I ever made in my life. … My Aunt Brenda is buried at Westview Cemetery, on the same street as Morehouse College, less than a mile away. I truly believe that this decision was much bigger than me, and I hope my aunt is proud of my accomplishments from above.”
What’s next: Will be working in the league office of the NFL through the Junior Rotational Program.

Demetria McKinney

Quick fact: Demetria McKinney is an actor, singer and songwriter. She stars on the Freeform drama series Motherland: Fort Salem.


Jeffon Stubbs

Hometown: Nassau, Bahamas
Academic highlight: Graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor’s degree in biology. Served as the student regent on Morgan State University Board of Regents.
My HBCU story: “After four years at an HBCU, I’ve learned that no one can ‘give’ me the power to do anything. Everything I need to succeed is already inside of me and just needs to be developed by the right influences/environment. I will take that concept with me for the rest of my life!”
What’s next: Attending Rowan University to pursue a master’s degree in higher education administration.


Jessica Radford

Hometown: Detroit
Academic highlight: Graduated with a bachelor’s degree in mass communications, recording six semesters on the dean’s list all while playing for Norfolk State’s volleyball team.
My HBCU story: “Norfolk State has impacted me greatly over these past four years by providing me a home away from home. I came to a school where I didn’t know anyone at all. I had left my twin sister behind in Michigan and the separation anxiety was really hard to deal with. I was so used to being around one person 24 hours out of the day. Abruptly changing that and being in a city I’ve never been in before definitely was something to get used to. Being around my teammates, coaches, professors and peers helped me cope tremendously with that within my time here at NSU and I’ll forever be grateful for them. That’s one of the most valuable lessons I’ve learned here is that I can be independent, achieve things by myself and take risks.
What’s next: Will attend University of the Pacific in Stockton, California, in the fall to pursue a master’s degree in mass communications for media and public relations.

Chris Paul

Quick fact: Chris Paul is a guard for the OKC Thunder, a 10-time NBA all-star and a North Carolina native.


Darian Thompson

Hometown: Winston-Salem, North Carolina
Academic highlight: Earned bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering and served as the student administrative assistant for the academic affairs office.
My HBCU story: “The biggest benefit of going to an HBCU is getting that confidence in yourself and not feeling like another number or statistic. You’re really able to foster your growth within your own identity. … An HBCU really tests your resilience. It broke me down, flipped my world upside down and built me back up to make me who I am today.”
What’s next: Moving to Dallas to work as a technical business manager for AT&T.

Tarik Cohen

Quick fact: Tarik Cohen graduated from North Carolina A&T State University and is entering his fourth season in the NFL as a running back for the Chicago Bears.


Loni Love

Quick fact: Loni Love is a graduate of Prairie View A&M University, a co-host of The Real and a comedic actor with numerous appearances in film and television.

Yvonne Orji

Quick fact: Yvonne Orji is a comedian and actor who is one of the stars of the HBO series Insecure and her first HBO comedy special, Momma, I Made It, premieres June 6.


Christian Smith

Hometown: Grayson, Georgia
Academic highlight: Earned a bachelor’s degree in sports management and was a member of the dean’s list all as an NCAA All-American in the 110- and 400-meter hurdles.
My HBCU story: “I chose to transfer to SAU because coming from a PWI, I really wanted to experience the life at an HBCU. I was also recruited to run track by the legendary coach George Williams. While being there, I was able to accomplish many personal goals on the track and in the classroom. I highly value all of the relationships I’ve made and knowledge I’ve gained at my HBCU. It was truly an experience I’m glad I made that I will never forget.”
What’s next: Planning to pursue a master’s degree in kinesiology this fall and hopes to use his final year of eligibility to run Division I track in the spring after the pandemic ended his 2020 season.


Darius Leonard

Quick fact: Darius Leonard, a graduate of South Carolina State University, is a linebacker for the Indianapolis Colts and is entering his third NFL season.


Andre Matzuda

Hometown: Lima, Peru
Academic highlight: Earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration, maintaining a 4.0 GPA.
My HBCU story: “I chose Shaw University because they provided me with the opportunity to continue my studies while playing soccer. As an international student, it was a unique experience. The fact that I was able to develop new relationships with people from many different cultures and backgrounds had a great impact on me. It enhanced my perspective and point of view.”
What’s next: Looking to begin a career in the sports industry.


Irene Lewis

Hometown: Baton Rouge, Louisiana
Academic highlight: A bachelor’s degree in agricultural sciences with a concentration in plant and soil science. With a 3.963 GPA, a top graduate in the College of Agricultural, Family and Consumer Science.
My HBCU story: “My mother and father both graduated from HBCUs [Tuskegee and Southern University, respectively]. I loved hearing about their experiences. Additionally, I wanted to be in an environment where my identity was constantly affirmed by those around me.”
What’s next: Enrolling in master’s program in the fall at Ohio State University to study public administration.

Leonard Haynes

Quick fact: Leonard Haynes is a Southern University graduate, a former acting president of Grambling University and a longtime government and private sector adviser on historically black college initiatives.

Diggy Simmons

Quick fact: Diggy Simmons is an actor who stars in the Freeform sitcom grown-ish.


Kendra Grissom

Hometown: Baltimore
Academic highlight: Named valedictorian of class, earning a bachelor’s degree in history.
My HBCU story: “I came to Spelman in part because I believed that a historically black college would be an ideal site to study the black American experience. I was inspired to pursue a degree in history after discovering that the historical knowledge that was given to me by my parents and educators was not common knowledge. Having an awareness of my rich heritage was empowering. It gave me confidence and a sense of identity. I wanted to share that experience with black youth in particular. ”
What’s next: Enrolled in a doctoral program at Johns Hopkins University for history.

Zuri Adele

Quick fact: Zuri Adele is an alumna of Spelman College who has starred for two seasons on Freeform’s popular show Good Trouble.


Micah Grey

Hometown: Birmingham, Alabama
Academic highlight: Graduated with honors and was a member of Sigma Xi Scientific Research Honor Society.
My HBCU story: “After high school, I knew that I wanted to attend an HBCU. Among the top HBCUs in the country, Tuskegee stood out the most to me. Tuskegee’s rich history, notable alumni, and alumni pride drew me in. I discovered that the Tuskegee experience was one of a kind, and the students truly loved everything about their school. After attending open house I knew that Tuskegee would soon become my home away from home.”

What’s next: Plans on attending graduate school and pursuing a medical degree.


William Gibson

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina
Academic highlight: Received bachelor’s degree in political science and was student government association president.
My HBCU story: “I am the oldest of four children and a first-generation college student. I had to figure out the college admission process on my own. … Winston-Salem State University was the best choice I could’ve made for my collegiate career. Immediately after taking a tour, I fell in love with the environment. It felt like a home away from home. Through WSSU, I found my need for advocacy, my love of knowledge, my will to persist. WSSU has afforded me many opportunities. I met some of the most remarkable, kind and transformative individuals of my life. I’ve made lifelong friends and mentors.”
What’s next: Accepted a full-time job with Facebook and also has been accepted into George Washington University’s master’s of public administration program, deferring enrollment until 2021.

Stephen A. Smith

Quick fact: Stephen A. Smith is a graduate of Winston-Salem State University and is one of the nation’s leading sports voices as commentator of ESPN’s First Take.


Myles Bartholomew

Hometown: Houston
Academic highlight: Earned degree in biology and was student government association president his senior year.
What’s next: Pursuing a doctorate in molecular/cellular biochemistry at Brown University.