An ABC lesson in leadership at TU commencement

By Ray Feldmann on May 23, 2018

Beverly Daniel Tatum delivered the Towson University commencement address Wednesday.

Beverly Daniel Tatum speaks at TU commencement
Beverly Daniel Tatum speaks at Towson University commencement.

Students from the College of Liberal Arts were at SECU Arena on Wednesday afternoon to participate in the largest of Towson University’s six commencement ceremonies. But before they crossed the stage to the cheers of family members and friends, they had the chance to learn one final, important lesson at TU: leadership matters.

Dr. Beverly Daniel Tatum, a best-selling author and president emerita of Spelman College, delivered the university’s 2018 spring Commencement address Wednesday during the College of Liberal Arts ceremony.

In addition to serving as TU’s commencement speaker, Tatum received an honorary doctorate degree during the ceremony.

“I am here to remind you that your education is not for your benefit alone,” Tatum told the assembled graduates. “Your education positions you for leadership at a time when your leadership is sorely needed. Some of you, I know, have already demonstrated your capacity for leadership here at the University. You held an elected office in student government perhaps, or you served on a campus committee, you raised your hand a lot in class, and you organized events.

“Don’t confuse yourself with a narrow definition of leadership,” she continued. “Each and every one of you here is a leader, because you have a sphere of influence. You influence family members, friends, fellow students, co-workers, or members of your congregation. You may not always know it, but you lead by your example. Others notice what you do, what you say, and your example gives others permission to do or say similar things. So make no mistake, your leadership matters.”

Tatum’s 13 years as the president of Spelman College between 2002 and 2015 were marked by innovation and growth, and her visionary leadership was recognized in 2013 with the Carnegie Academic Leadership Award.

The author of several books — including the best-selling Why Are All the Black Kids Sitting Together in the Cafeteria? and Other Conversations About Race, and Can We Talk about Race? and Other Conversations in an Era of School Resegregation — Tatum is a sought-after speaker on the topics of racial identity development; race and education; strategies for creating inclusive campus environments; and educational leadership.

In her brief remarks to the TU graduates on Wednesday, Tatum shared her ABC’s of leadership.

“A stands for Affirming identity – it is always better to include people than to leave them out,” Tatum said. “People feel included when the identities that matter to them are made visible in positive ways. Everyone wants to see themselves included in the communities that they are a part of, and a good leader will learn to ask the question: Who is missing from the picture? Whose voice is not represented in this discussion?

“When we learn to ask those questions, we are well on our way to the B: building community – creating a civic culture that is able to thrive because everyone is included,” she continued. “When people feel included and affirmed, they have a stake in finding positive solutions to the problems we face. We need everyone’s contribution.

“And when we pass on what we have learned about inclusive leadership from one generation to the next, from one leader to the next – when we do the C – we cultivate leadership for the next generation of children, of students, of employees,” she added. “Because they too, will need to know how to affirm identity, build community, and cultivate leadership in an increasingly diverse society, and they, like all of us, will need the opportunity to practice.”

Tatum closed her commencement remarks with words of inspiration for the nearly 700 graduates.

“Class of 2018, the choice is yours,” she said. “No matter what you do, you will be making history. You will be leading by example. As graduates of this important institution, you already have the tools you need to be the leaders, to think critically about the important questions of our time, and to use your insights to be the agents of change in your communities. To me, that is a very hopeful thought, a cause for celebration!”

In 2005, Tatum was awarded the prestigious Brock International Prize in Education for her innovative leadership in the field. A Fellow of the American Psychological Association, she was the 2014 recipient of the APA Award for Outstanding Lifetime Contributions to Psychology.

A civic leader in the Atlanta community, Tatum is engaged in educational initiatives designed to expand educational opportunity for underserved students and their families. She serves on the governing boards of the Westside Future Fund, Achieve Atlanta, Morehouse College and Smith College, as well as the Georgia Power Company and the Educational Testing Service.

Tatum holds a B.A. degree in psychology from Wesleyan University, and a M.A. and Ph.D. in clinical psychology from the University of Michigan as well as an M.A. in religious studies from Hartford Seminary. Over the course of her career, she has served as a faculty member at the University of California, Santa Barbara, Westfield State University and Mount Holyoke College. Prior to her appointment as president of Spelman, she served as dean and acting president at Mount Holyoke.

This story is one of several related to President Kim Schatzel's priorities for Towson University:  Diverse and Inclusive Campus and Culture of Philanthropy.