Renowned playwright, award-winning filmmaker and author David E. Talbert, of the Class of 1989, appeals to Morgan's Class of 2022 to strive toward excellence and being their best, stating "Fear is your friend, it challenges you to be that much better today than you were yesterday." In addition to providing the keynote, Talbert also received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree for his artistic contribution to the performing arts, stage and cinema.

By Wayne Dawkins,
Special to the AFRO

David E. Talbert, an award-winning playwright turned Hollywood director, told 600-plus Morgan State University graduates May 21 that there were detours along his career journey.

He began college as a division III-basketball star at Western Maryland University where he was among two dozen Blacks at the overwhelmingly White campus. Then he transferred to Morgan State University with an athletic scholarship in hand and on arrival realized he, the fastest, hardest, strongest basketball player at his former school, was “slowest, softest, weakest, Whitest,” student-athlete at Morgan in the late 1980s. 

Then he fractured his ankle during a pickup basketball game with some OGs. For that act he lost his scholarship. Now what would Talbert do? 

The 1989 graduate said he embraced Morgan as the “Disneyland of Black people, the happiest, most melainated place ever. I got my swagger back. I threw off my crutches and healed.” 

MSU Band Director Melvin Miles leads student band members in his final concert appearance at the 145th Spring Commencement. After nearly four decades as musical director of Morgan’s marching band—The Magnificent Marching Machine—and the Morgan State University Jazz Ensemble, Miles retired from his alma mater.

He earned a degree in marketing. Talbert traveled west and became a radio DJ in the San Francisco Bay area that was preceded by a stopover in Las Vegas where he met his future wife.

“Morgan messed up my mind,” Talbert explained in a resonant baritone, “And made me believe I could do anything.” After watching a performance, he told himself, “I can do that,” and switched careers again to become a playwright. 

That choice stuck and was the theme of Talbert’s 20-minute pep talk to graduates:

“Have the courage to create. You are the creators, graduates. Introduce and even reintroduce yourself.” It could be normal, he said to change career paths a handful of times before graduates settle into what they love. Family, friends, yourselves even, will have doubts, but trust.  

Scholar-athlete and 2021 to 2022 ESPN Rhoden Fellow Cayla Sweazie, Bachelor of Science in Multimedia Journalism major is photographed with Morgan State alumnus Bill C. Rhoden, of the Class of 1973. Rhoden is writer and editor-at-large for ESPN’s Landscape (formerly The Undefeated) who established the ESPN-sponsored Rhoden Fellowship, a two-year program that identifies and trains aspiring African-American journalists from Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), providing unique opportunities to report news stories on their campuses through the production of multimedia content. Morgan bestowed an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to Rhoden in 2019.

And before there is courage, you must face your fears. God will open a window and pour out a blessing. It’s time to receive.”

Director Talbert referenced his debut Hollywood film, “First Sunday,” saying that it “was Morgan State University-made,” triggering roars and applause from the nearly packed Hurt Stadium crowd despite the 95-degree heat.   

The commencement speaker’s resume included many hit comedies such as “Baggage Claim,” and “Almost Christmas,” “Jingle Jangle,” and more than a dozen theatrical tours that reaped 24 NAACP award nominations. In recognition of those achievements Talbert earned an MSU Doctor of Fine Arts degree. 

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters recipients included Colin Kaepernick, the Super Bowl star NFL quarterback who was banished from the league in 2016 for taking a knee during the playing of the national anthem before games as a protest against police brutality and systemic racism. Sidelined, Kaepernick reinvented himself as a social justice activist. 

“You are part of a legacy of thinkers, doers, luminaries and revolutionaries,” he told graduates via a remote message projected on a jumbotron.

David Burton (center), of the Class of 1967, photographed with Rep. Kweisi Mfume, chair of Morgan State University Board of Regents (left) and MSU President David K. Wilson (right). Burton, founder and CEO of the Diverse Manufacturing Supply Chain Alliance (DMSCA) and DMSCA Supplier Development Foundation, received the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree. Burton served a pivotal role in the now landmark Coalition for Excellence and Equity in Maryland Higher Education (HBCUs) vs. the State of Maryland lawsuit which sought to right decades of inequity and underfunding of Maryland’s Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

Among the revolutionaries Kaepernick referenced were the Morgan State students that led 1955 lunch counter sit-ins at Howard Street, in Baltimore. 

“As I was sifting through Morgan State’s archives in preparation for these remarks, one theme that came up time and again was Morgan State’s transcendent belief in the power of service to others,” Kaepernick said, “the transcendent belief that in the service of others, we can elevate our entire community…the transcendent belief that you, the 2022 graduates of Morgan State University, can pry open the possible and break down barriers toward our shared liberation.”

Dawkins is a professor of professional practice in the Morgan State University School of Global Journalism and Communication.

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