Flowing blue gowns blossomed on the central quad of Howard’s Northwest Washington campus for the university’s 144th commencement exercise.
This weekend and next mark the peak of college graduation season: American, Catholic and Gallaudet universities, among others, held graduation ceremonies Friday and Saturday. The universities of Maryland and Virginia hold their commencements next weekend, as will Georgetown and George Washington universities.
The end of college is a seismic demographic event in Washington, emptying the city and its suburbs of more than 100,000 students, some of whom will return along with a fresh batch of freshmen in fall. Others, such as Britney Renee Wilson, will move on.
Wilson, 22, has spent much of her life fighting against societal ignorance and erratic special-education services. Her relationship with Washington’s fabled historically black university is equal parts love and frustration, but she believes that both she and the school are the better for it.
“I love Howard,” she said as she steered her scooter down a bumpy Georgia Avenue sidewalk after the morning ceremony. “I’m going to love it forever. But I’m going to say that I love what it could and should be, more than what it currently is.”
Howard spokeswoman Kerry-Ann Hamilton said the university complies fully with the Americans with Disabilities Act but has made “tremendous progress” in the past four years to improve access while renovating aging facilities.
“We are proud of Britney and value her contributions to improve access during her time on campus,” she said.
Wilson wasn’t the first student to arrive at Howard with a disability. But she said she found herself in perpetual battle — over automatic door-openers that didn’t work and such basic privileges as a dormitory room on the first floor.
In the end, she got her first-floor room and the automated doors were fixed. But Wilson said she can’t help but wonder whether a less assertive student would have prevailed.
“As a black, female, disabled person, I’ve been an anomaly, not just at Howard but everywhere,” she said.
“When you’re female, people don’t want you to be vocal and aggressive, but when you have a disability, you have to be vocal and aggressive to get what you need. And if you’re a black person, they especially don’t want you to be vocal and aggressive. And when you put all of that together, you get me.”
Wilson was born in Brownsville, the working-class east Brooklyn neighborhood that produced Larry King and the Rev. Al Sharpton. Her father, Victor, was a lawyer. After her parents divorced, Britney was raised by her mother, Roslyn, an administrator with New York’s social services department.