Obama Inspires With Howard University Commencement Address

By Brittany Jacob

Trevor Thomas, a recent graduate of Howard University’s College of Dentistry, was the one of the lucky few to hear President Barack Obama speak at his commencement ceremony on May 7, and one of the many to be inspired by him.

The graduate called President Obama’s commencement address “spiritual.” For Thomas, “It wasn’t a surface-level speech; it touched me on a deeper level. It was a charge to do more in our community and reminded me of our responsibility to one another.”

Thomas was raised by a single mother in Boynton, Fla., and aspired to a career in healthcare from the age of seven.

The former class president at Howard, he is also one of the founders of the only existing fraternity for minority males in dentistry, medicine and pharmacy.

In his speech, Obama recognized the systemic inequality that threatens the success of African Americans like Thomas: “We’ve got a justice gap when too many black boys and girls pass through a pipeline from underfunded schools to overcrowded jails. This is one area where things have gotten worse. When I was in college, about half a million people in America were behind bars. Today, there are about 2.2 million. Black men are about six times likelier to be in prison right now than white men.”

According to the 2010 U.S. Census, only 5.5 percent of all college students are black men. Despite the odds, Thomas graduated on time and with glowing professor recommendations.

After eight combined years of undergraduate and graduate study at Howard University, Thomas is relocating to Los Angeles. He will focus on cosmetic and implant dentistry as an associate dentist at Crossroads Dental Group while he completes coursework in implantology, full-mouth rehabilitation and dental aesthetics.

Trevor Thomas, graduate of Howard University's School of Dentistry

Trevor Thomas (Photo by Tyrell Robinson)

Thomas answered a few questions about witnessing the president’s commencement address.

Is Obama an inspiration to you? 

Yes. Obama epitomizes the idea that with perseverance and dedication…our options are limitless. Though we may not all be given the same quality or quantity of tools to be successful,…if we can match our deficits with equal effort, we can get whatever job it may be done. This includes properly managing the most powerful country in the world.

What is your fondest memory of Howard?

[It was]  when I was finished working on my first denture case at Howard University. My patient was 92 years old at the time. In her appreciation to have teeth finally, she told me stories of how over the years she has been a patient of Howard. She marveled [at] how the university and the college of dentistry remained dedicated to her as a patient over the past 60 years and has at the same time stayed active in the community. This reminded me of Howard’s calling to truth and service and how we remain committed to it.

What was your ultimate takeaway from President Obama’s speech?

We have been given the tools for success…Now “we’ve got work to do.” Obama emphasized that we must answer our calling or responsibility to continuously educate ourselves and pour back into our communities.

Our degrees mean we have the proper working tools to perform our trade adequately,…but we must begin our labor to uplift the communities around us and contribute to the legacy that is both Howard University and the African American experience.

What encouraging words would you offer a young African American man?

You don’t have to simply be a product of your environment, but more so the pride of your environment. Don’t be afraid to branch out from your community as long as your remain true to giving back to it and touching every place that life takes you.

(Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

Howard University students at commencement (Photo by Alex Wong/Getty Images)

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