Skip to main content

Celebrating Graduates with #HonorMe2020

Commencement ceremony preparation for the class of 2010 at Alabama State University. Photo courtesy of Derrick Fleming Jr.

2020 marks ten years since I graduated from college at THE Alabama State University. I remember it like it was yesterday. All the joy, love, support, encouragement, and questions of what’s next…I remember it all. As the Managing Director of College Access for Chicago Scholars, an educator, and a social change agent; I’ve found myself as a voice for the voiceless. We are in an unprecedented time, and I feel compelled to make certain that I speak up because we need to make sure that our 2020 graduates, especially those who are first-generation, have the opportunity to celebrate this milestone.

That’s why a coalition of organizations — Chicago Scholars, C4: Chicago College and Career Collaborative, My Brother’s Keeper (MBK) Chicago, and the National Partnership for Educational Access (NPEA) — are coming together for #HonorMe2020. As part of #HonorMe2020, we’re looking to partner with our local and national government officials, sports teams, the arts and entertainment community, the philanthropic community, corporations, fellow community-based organizations, and any others who feel compelled to take action and make a memorable and meaningful celebration for our 2020 graduates.

With colleges and universities canceling commencement ceremonies all around the country and Illinois public schools and other school districts closing for the remainder of the school year, thousands of young Chicagoans and other youth around the country are feeling disappointed, hurt, saddened, unfulfilled, and discouraged. Commencement ceremonies and graduations have been happening for centuries in America. A commencement marks the end of an accomplishment and the beginning or start of something new. For many first-generation college students, and even some high school and elementary graduates, these ceremonies mean so much more, especially if you’re a person of color. This is an accomplishment for the graduate and their families too. They may have sacrificed a lot to achieve these accomplishments and having your graduation or commencement ceremony canceled due to COVID-19 is not something anyone could have predicted. Our young people deserve a commencement ceremony because they’ve earned it and worked hard for it. For some graduates, they need these ceremonies to feel encouraged to continue pursuing their goals and dreams. With the cancel culture around us, let’s NOT cancel the hard work of 2020 Chicago graduates and graduates around the country. They deserve to be celebrated.

#HonorMe2020 is a concept for a city-wide campaign to honor all of Chicago’s 2020 graduates (we dream of it becoming larger and being able to celebrate ALL 2020 graduates). This new decade should be filled with endless possibilities for this year’s graduates and those who will follow. Chicago, and the nation, I am asking you to join us to show that we care for each other and to help celebrate our 2020 graduates. With #HonorMe2020 we want to host a city-wide virtual commencement ceremony or ceremonies in late spring or early summer 2020 here in Chicago and all around the country. When it’s safe to come together, we want to host the world’s best graduation party with amazing Chicago-based musical artists and celebrities to happen this Fall or Winter 2020. We hope other cities and states will join in.

Chicago Scholars supports leaders like President Adam Weinberg of Denison University, a Chicago Scholars’ college partner, who delivered a heartfelt message to the class of 2020 through an emailed video. “Human being to human being, I’m sorry that you’re going through this,” President Weinberg said. “You worked so hard to get here. You deserve better but this is where we’re at. But just know that I’m thinking about you and care about you and at some point, would like to celebrate you.”

There is also a growing movement to get another President involved. A recent CNN article featured a tweet from Lincoln Debenham, 17, a graduating senior from Eagle Rock High School in Los Angeles. He tweeted late Tuesday, April 14, urging former President Barack Obama to deliver a “national commencement address.” Yes, COVID-19 is happening now, and we must address the needs of the communities and world around us but that doesn’t mean we can’t simultaneously start brainstorming and planning how we must celebrate the 2020 graduates of Chicago and 2020 graduates around the country. This is a time not only to respond to emergency needs, but also for our communities to come together to celebrate our young people and their accomplishments.

Will you join the #HonorMe2020 campaign to honor all of Chicago’s 2020 graduates and 2020 graduates around the country? Let’s celebrate youth power and voice…let’s encourage the next generation of leaders from Chicago and from around the country. Let’s unite and honor our 2020 graduates. Sign up to shape the #HonorMe2020 campaign here as an individual or an organization. Contact me, Derrick Fleming Jr., at for more information.