My University of Georgia Commencement Address

By Dr. Harold A. Black


Let me be among the first to congratulate all of you on your achievement – that of graduating from this wonderful university. You are joining an extended family of proud Georgia graduates – and that pride will grow as you age. I am proud of this university and of my youngest granddaughter, Haley Savannah Rose, who is a member of this class. The university has come a long way from when I first arrived as a freshman in 1962. The society was still segregated so much so that I had never had a conversation with a white person before arriving at UGA.

My windows in Reed Hall were broken so often that a window crew came by every morning. Lighter fluid was squirted under my door and set on fire three times. Firecrackers were put into the slats in the door. My bathroom was sabotaged. There was always gum to be dug out of my keyhole. The first time I went swimming in the university’s pool, they kicked everyone out and drained it. I went back the next day. Although I got five band scholarships out of high school, I was not allowed to be in the “Dixie” Redcoat Marching Band. I was the only one of us to go to the football games where I was often the only black in the stadium not carrying a broom or a mop. It was like a Ku Klux Klan rally with all the Confederate flags. After the national anthem, the band played Dixie and I sat. Debris and curses rained down upon me but I refused to stand. Dean Tate seemingly materialized out of nowhere to gather student ID cards. By the third game, I could sit in peace. My father told me that I would not have any friends. But at our first dorm meeting, the three boys directly in front of me turned around and asked if they could sit with me. They became steadfast friends even though they were constantly harassed. Am I bitter? No. To quote Stevie Wonder: “You can always look at the negative but you should always live in the positive So I try every day to live that way.”  I hope you do that as well. All of us who came here focused on our objectives and shut out all the noise. My parents said to not let others discourage you and to ignore those who tried. They said to find your limits and when you do, to find someone who could help you push past them. I embraced that here at Georgia and in my career. I encourage you to do the same.

The university has come a long way, not just racially but also academically. My degree is more valuable because of what this university has accomplished over these 60 years. The true purpose of a university is to help you learn how to learn, to think critically, to investigate, to gather and process information in order to make more rational informed decisions. Conclusions can differ because information more times than not yields contradictory results. Your truth is guided in large part by what you cherish and what you believe. But just because your conclusions might differ from others it does not mean you can claim “truth” unless you explore the truth value of contrary evidence. Don’t be dogmatic. I say, “Prove me wrong and I’ll adopt your opinion.”

Work hard. To paraphrase Thomas Edison: Success is one percent inspiration and 99 percent perspiration. Life is a challenge. The world is made up of three types: the two percent who make things happen, the eight percent who know what’s happening and the 90 percent who haven’t a clue as to what’s happening. The university and its education cannot put you into the two percent but it can put you into the eight percent provided you are not intellectually lazy. Unfortunately even with information being so readily available too many of us are intellectually lazy and will be relegated to the 90 percent. If you are intellectually curious and hard working you may get to the two percent. Look around you. Look at your extended family. Alma mater means “foster mother.” Alumni means foster children. Understand that I do not care what you look like. I don’t care if you are black, brown, white, red, yellow or shades in between. What I do care about is your character, your desire to get better, your desire to make a difference and your humanity. So welcome to the family. Go forth. Make us proud. Again, congratulations, and Go Dawgs.