When I first woke up on Monday morning, I checked my school e-mail. I was expecting another update about COVID-19 but never thought canceling commencement would be one of them. I remember staring at the screen for a while before it actually hit me. And when it did, I got up and cried.

I was under the impression that everyone was going to come back in late April/early May, and we were going to have our grad week, have fun and walk across the stage. Reading that e-mail was the first time I thought, Wow this is really happening…I really have to go home.

My name is Dionne Ledbetter, and I’m a 21-year-old Howard University (HU) student from Atlanta. My major is music composition with a minor in classical saxophone. I began my studies at Howard in the fall of 2016 and lived on campus for all four years. Being at Howard was everything I wanted it to be, plus some more. I was looking forward to my graduation in May. But now, because of the coronavirus, I will never get to experience it.

Dionne Ledbetter
A cap and gown selfie posted to Dionne Ledbetter’s Instagram earlier this year shows some of the excitement she held for her May graduation. (Photo: Instagram)

My father went to Howard in the eighties and my sister went when I was in high school. I knew Howard was where I needed to be. The culture was richer, the opportunities bigger, and the fact that everyone looks like me was the icing on the cake. 

Although I had a rough adjustment period, I am grateful for the challenges Howard brought me. I’m a member of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc., and I played saxophone in the concert and jazz bands. I also deejay for the Undergraduate Student Assembly and our student-run radio station. I’ve made lifelong friends and have been given amazing opportunities. The culture at HU is something I’ll forever appreciate.

Howard is full of spontaneity and it peaks the spring of your senior year. It’s a time when you have fun with your Howard family—freshman-year floormates, sorority sisters, college team members. There are darties (day parties), campus presentations, screenings and concerts. As a DJ, I was looking forward to spinning for Howard students one last time, watching everyone out and having the time of their lives!

Dionne Ledbetter spins the turntables on Howard University yard
Ledbetter, a graduating senior, was well-known on the yard for her deejaying skills. (Photo: @yagirldjmagic)

The first person I shared the news with was my grandfather. Every time I saw him or texted him, he would say how excited he was to come to D.C. to see me graduate. That’s what motivated me throughout this semester, knowing that relatives from all over the country were coming to D.C. in May to celebrate me graduating. Given that commencement always falls on Mother’s Day weekend, I was also excited to share this moment with my mom and grandmothers. Their support and love mean so much to me. I was looking forward to having lots of good food, going to the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History & Culture and buying a Howard Alumni crewneck from the bookstore. It’s unfortunate that I will not have any of those memories. 

Just last week we were all on the yard socializing and throwing darties in the park, and now, the entire campus is empty until further notice. I understand everything is canceled for the safety of us and our families. But what makes this more heartbreaking is that we had to pack up all of our things and go home in a matter of days. Howard students come from all around the globe. so to grab our belongings and head back to our corners of the world on such short notice hurts. It’s both scary and sad. 

Howard University Class of 2020 holds a special place in my heart. We’re a small but powerful class that’s full of hustlers and innovators. I do believe that we deserve our time to strut across the stage. And since we can only walk in the spring, I hope they make a provision for us in the future. 

Dionne Ledbetter on AKA sorority plot
During her matriculation at Howard University, Ledbetter was initiated into the Alpha Chapter of Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority, Inc. (Photo: Dionne Ledbetter)

After obtaining my degree, I plan to write music for TV and film. I’m also interested in curating events for a Black LGBTQ+ audience. Our class has been through a lot, but from the moment we stepped on campus, we tried to use our gifts to make Howard, and the world, a better place. A graduation will never change that.

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