FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
Contact: Sam Burston
By VICKIE G. HAMPTON
Throughout her Staten Island, New York high school, Akeema Duff had been searching for her voice. She studied drama and theater arts but knew that she didn’t want the life of a starving artist. When she entered Clark Atlanta University she chose mass media arts, but, still true to herself, knew that she did not want to be in front of nor behind the camera.
She eventually found the perfect pitch for her voice in speech communication.
“I always knew I had a voice and just need the essential tools to be able to share my message,” says Duff. “I found that in speech communication—which wasn’t too far from theater or mass media arts.”
On May 21st, Duff will graduate from Clark Atlanta University as salutatorian of the Class of 2018, with a GPA of 3.91.
At CAU, whose theme ironically for the past three years has been “Lifting Every Voice,” Duff found several forums to express herself. She joined the CAU Debate Team, serving as its president when she was a junior, and was an editor of the CAU review literary magazine.
Turns out CAU proved to be more than a voice amplifier; it was also an incubator where she felt nurtured and a sense of belonging.
“I spent much of my childhood educational career in PWI’s and I always felt as if I did not belong,” she says. “I chose CAU because of the culture. The thought that other black men and women from all different starting points, from all across the world managed to make it here and were thriving attracted me to be a part of something greater than myself.
“I wanted to learn with peers who were also hungry for an education and had the support of faculty and professors whose lives resembled their own. My HBCU experience built my confidence to succeed, and I would have never found that in another institution. The confidence needed to compete on the uneven playing field stretches far beyond one workshop or a class,” she says.
During her freshman year on the CAU Debate Team, Duff traveled to Houston and had the opportunity to learn the art of debate from the legendary Dr. Thomas F. Freeman and the Texas Southern University Debate Team.
“I felt impactful,” she recalls. “I was a participant in an intellectual wordplay as we exchanged differences in ideas, political stances and beliefs -- and not a fist was thrown. To win this argument required thought, discipline, and speech.”
Her voice was validated during another unexpected encounter in Houston. She and other members of the Debate Team were invited to meet with then-dean of TSU’s school of business, Dr. Ronald Johnson, before he became CAU’s fourth president.
“He met with us to talk about our vision for what we wanted our school to look like going forward. It was important enough to him to give us an opportunity to express ourselves,” she says. “I witnessed first-hand the plans of president Johnson to advance the school forward across all fronts.”
Duff comes from a family of college graduates. For her parents, college topped their list of expectations they had for their children. One of Duff’s older sister recently earned a theology degree, another sister has the equivalent of a master’s degree from a university in France, and her twin sister is on track to receive her bachelor’s degree in December.
“I knew from the age of six I was going to college. My father always preached about having the grades to pick your college and to get scholarships,” she says. “Now my parents are reaping the harvest of all they have planted within me. I am the best possible outcome of what can happen when parents can set their children up to succeed. As long as I was putting forth the effort, my parents did their best to alleviate other factors that could prevent me from reaching my maximum potential.”
Duff is a recipient of a CAU Dean’s Scholarship, Tony Bennet Exploring the Arts Scholarship, Joseph Tauber Scholarship and the CAU Guild’s Brenda Hill Cole Endowed Scholarship. After graduation, she plans to pursue a higher degree and eventually become a college president so that she can help “provide other students an opportunity where they too can thrive beyond their wildest dreams.”
Keywords: Akeema Duff