Chimamanda addresses University of Pennsylvania’s graduating class of 2020
Chimamanda addresses University of Pennsylvania’s graduating class of 2020

Earlier in February 2020, it was announced that Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie will deliver the commencement speech at the University of Pennsylvania in May 2020, making her the first black woman to achieve this feat at the institution after then-US Secretary of Housing and Urban Development Patricia Harris did so 42 years ago.

This is another record on Adichie’s part amongst many others including the first African to: deliver a Yale University Class Day speech, win the PEN Pinter Prize; first African to win the Orange Broadband Prize for Fiction award; first Nigerian to receive the Kassel Citizens’ ‘Prism of Reason’ award as well as the youngest African and first Nigerian to receive the United Nations Foundation Global Leadership Award.

The COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown in major cities across the globe could not deter the occurrence of the University of Pennsylvania graduation ceremony which was held virtually on Monday, May 18, 2020 in line with previous schedule. At 11am on the said day, Penn’s Class of 2020 was joined by students, alumni, associates, teaching and non-teaching staff worldwide to mark the occasion. In celebration of the graduation ceremony, a special tribute was paid to the graduating students which included special remarks from the President, Provost, students’ performances and the conferral of degrees.

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Delivering a brief but powerful message virtually, Adichie who was introduced by the school’s president Amy Gutmann, congratulated the graduating class and empathized with them stating that it was a strange time to be graduating. “I can imagine that it must also be a difficult time, a confusing time, a disorienting time but if there is anything to be said for this strange time in which we find ourselves, it is this, that for you graduating at this time it is among other things an opportunity to start to think about the kind of world that we want to remake”, she encouraged with a smile. She also confessed to have learnt about the graduating class including their achievements of which she found impressive. “I do have to say that I am most moved by the sacrifices that you’ve made, the sacrifices that you’ve had to make – I think even that is an achievement.”

In closing her remarks, Adichie who also received an honorary doctorate degree from the Ivy League University, served a bundle of hope to strengthen the graduands amid the pandemic, “These may be strange times – they certainly are for me – but I want to urge you to remember that there is so much to celebrate. You’ve done it. You’ve graduated. Congratulations.”

As confirmed on the university’s website, the 264th Commencement Day event will now take place physically on May 22 & 23, 2021 “When we all plan to be together again, taking our traditional march down Locust Walk to the Class of 2020 Commencement Celebration in Franklin Field.” the school wrote. It is also confirmed that Adichie will physically re-address the Class of 2020 and fully give her commencement speech on that day, “I’m looking forward very much to addressing you in Franklin field sometime in the future and looking forward very much to meeting you.” She told the new graduates.

The commencement day online celebrations ended with the university’s “The Red and Blue” being sung by some of the school’s best singers, accompanied by Grammy award-winning artiste and UPenn alumnus, John Legend.


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