Dillard University commencement - student smiling
Campus News

Ethics, precision and courage: Dillard confers degrees to 209 leaders, one honorary degree to President and CEO of ESSENCE Ventures

Graduates celebrate during the 2023 commencement ceremony. Photo: Sabree Hill | Dillard University

Danielle Miller
June 19, 2023

“I need y’all to act like you are a class that made it through a pandemic. I need y’all to act like you are going to make it!” 

Graduates and attendees reveled in the words of President and CEO of ESSENCE Ventures, Caroline Wanga, as she delivered a dynamic commencement speech. 

On Saturday, May 13, Dillard University conferred 209 degrees to students during the 2023 commencement ceremony. Five valedictorians and two salutatorians led the graduating class. Wanga also received an honorary degree. This was an historic commencement as Dillard golden gradscelebrated over 57 Golden Graduates, which is the largest number of Golden Graduates to return to the Avenue of the Oaks in Dillard’s history.

The honorary degree was a demonstration of ESSENCE Ventures’ long-standing relationship with the city of New Orleans. Celebrating 28 years, ESSENCE Festival of Culture (EFOC) has been a landmark in New Orleans since its origin.

Wanga delivered a powerful speech, encouraging graduates and attendees to continue to operate in their full humanity, chase their dreams, be authentic, and unleash Black expression no matter what obstacles come their way.

“It’s not so much about what the power of your presence after today will do in the world. What’s caroline wangsmore important is how powerful your absence will be if you don’t do what you’re supposed to do in the world,” said Wanga.

Her engaging and “Sophisti-ratchet” delivery captivated the audience. She was relatable and encouraging as she shared her experiences of becoming a young mother and working her way up from an entry-level position. Her words pierced the ears of onlookers, even causing some to shed tears.

A parent of a first generation college graduate, who too was a young mother, fought through tears to express how proud she was of her daughter for continuing her education and pushing through barriers. She said that seeing her daughter accomplish her goals was all the motivation she needed to pursue her goals.

President Rochelle Ford also celebrated her first commencement as Dillard’s eighth president. She encouraged students to live each day with purpose and left them with a scripture to remember as they embark on their next journey: “Remember the words of the book of Jeremiah chapter 29:11 “For I know the plans I have for you, declares the Lord. Plans for you to prosper and not to harm. Plans to give you hope and a future,”” said Ford. 

Dillard enforces its motto, “Ex Fide Fortis,” which means strength through faith. Students are taught that no matter what hardships are presented in life, whether it be a pandemic or teen pregnancy, with faith, they will make it through. 

About Dillard University
Dillard University is a historically Black institution that cultivates leaders who live ethically, think and communicate precisely, and act courageously to make the world a better place. Located in New Orleans, Dillard is a private faith-based liberal arts university that offers 22 majors and two certificate programs. Ranked 5th on 2021 The New York Times Overall Mobility Index and 14th in 2022 by Academic Influence for Best Colleges and Universities by Academic Stewardship, Dillard’s call to future leaders is to Write Your Legacy. Find out more about Louisiana’s oldest HBCU by visiting www.dillard.edu.