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  • Writer's pictureAshley Gray

10 Things I Think... I graduated from Howard University with my Ph.D.

I'm still on a high from the various graduation ceremonies I just participated in. It's been the most amazing few days. I've been trying to capture my journey as authentically as possible so someone can avoid my pitfalls and share my victories. So, now that I'm a few days removed, I have created a list of lessons learned through my commencement. I hope you can apply them someway to your own life.


  1. Make sure they say your name. So... if you watched the video of my commencement, then you know they forgot to say my name. What you likely didn't see was the panic happening inside for me. I was so sad and anxious that I had been missed. I texted a professor who was on the stage and told him. And. IT WORKED OUT BETTER THAN I COULD'VE EVER IMAGINED. Not only did he read my name- he gave more time and information about my newly earned title. Lesson learned: delay ain't denial. Make them say your name.

  2. Oh to be kept. Graduation elicits a lot of feelings- some rooted in grief, some anxiety and some joy. And that's normal. As I felt every feeling last week, I remembered just how well I've been kept through this process. I am really, truly, abundantly blessed. Ancestors, specifically my Aunties and Grandmother- the prayers got through. Thank you. And the reality that I wouldn't be able to share that day physically with you was hard. I had one auntie in particular who has moved to the DMV who had earned a Ph.D. I wanted nothing more than for her to hood me. And I'm sure one day she will. Again, delay ain't denial.

  3. Know that it won't be perfect. The day was anything but typical. There was no walking across the stage. No ceremonial drums leading us on that historic long walk from the valley to Founder's Library. It was altogether different. Beyond not having these traditions in place, I didn't get to share the day with my family in the same space. And that still hurts. And that's ok.

  4. There are some folks in your village that will bend over backwards to celebrate this occasion with you. Momma and my friends were waiting for me as soon as the doors opened though. Another friend has also called the graduate school so many times to inform them that my name had been skipped. My sisters and entire family were snapping pictures on the screens in anticipation. I was getting texts from my friends and a few college presidents I had the pleasure to include in my dissertation. And I felt each and every one of their prayers and excitement.

  5. Degrees will not make you enough for folks who never intended to show up for you. And you have to accept that even in their absence, you are ENOUGH. One particularly important person didn't show up for any of the virtual ceremonies. And this is literally the fourth a final commencement that he's been invited to but not shown face for. It breaks my heart every time. I just knew this one was going to be the one he was present for. And. It's sobering to accept that he is consistent- just not in the way I'd prefer. While it's hurtful that he understands the importance of showing up for others, I have got to accept that I am not in that category. And I may never be. And one day, it'll hurt less because I won't look for it as intensely. Either way, you really missed out. I was amazing.

  6. Graduation is for your village, too. My momma would be in a restaurant asking for a napkin and throw out to the server that I was a doctor. Server: Ma'am, you need more napkins? Momma: My daughter just completed her PhD at Howard University- she may need one.

  7. Graduation season and a press and curl don't mesh well. Chile. It's at least 500 degrees under that tam and robe. I earned that afro tucked ever so gently under that cap. I went from Phylicia Rashad to Angela Davis in a matter of minutes.

  8. Try your outfit on before the day of. Trust me on this. Our bodies change so much- don't wait til the last minute for a wardrobe crisis.

  9. I am from the greatest city in the US. My sweet St. Louis SHOWED UP AND SHOWED OUT. I knew long before completing this degree that I wasn't alone and that day although I sat on a row to myself, I was loved as best as I possibly could be.

  10. Pioneering ain't easy. Being the first is hard as hell because they're usually still building the plane as they fly it. Well, this fledgling rolled with every punch to become the first graduate of the Higher Education Leadership and Policy Studies Program at Howard University. I defended with distinction and left with honors as a 4.0 gpa earner. That alone is enough proof that I had unfair and unmerited amounts of grace and favor at the intersection of some grit.

  11. On a serious note... remember to celebrate yourself. No one teaches us how to do that. Thank yourself. I endured delays, denials, disappointments and dismay to get here- do it any way.




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