April Ryan, White House Correspondent and Washington Bureau Chief for American Urban Radio Networks, delivered the inaugural Elizabeth Barber Walker lecture on Thursday, Feb. 22, during which the College honored the first African-American graduate with an award from the Maryland House of Delegates.
The lecture series was organized by Black Student Union (BSU) and sponsored by the Office of the President, the Student Government Association, SGA Programs Board, Dr. Jeffrey Coleman and the African and African Diaspora Studies Program, and Dr. Kortet Mensah and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, among others.
Before Ryan’s remarks, BSU Special Events Coordinator Daekwan Jacobs presented the award to Ms. Walker (Class of ‘64), who accepted it with a speech during which she also honored Dr. Tuajuanda Jordan and Ryan for their achievements.
Of her experience at St. Mary’s in the 1960s, Ms. Walker remarked, “Yes, being the first has privileges, but it also has commitments, concerns, and courage. The commitment to do the best you can to meet and to complete challenges; the concerns about your decisions that you make and whether they are the right ones; but the courage to step up and out, and do what God tells you, even when you don’t know the plan nor his outcome speaks volumes of those persons who do so.”
Walker also emphasized the importance of enjoying the achievements that she, Dr. Jordan, and April Ryan have accomplished, saying, “I heard it said many times before, ‘Let me have my flowers, while I can smell them.’ This is another moment when I get to smell my flowers through the honor of a lecture series bearing my name. Thank you God, thank you everyone, and thank this community; and Ms. Ryan and Ms. Jordan, you should smell your flowers now. On my behalf, thank you both.”
Following Walker’s speech, Vice President of BSU, Cody Dorsey, introduced Ryan, noting that “Ms. Ryan has a unique vantage point as the only black female reporter covering urban issues for the White House.”
Ryan’s remarks followed the theme of this school year set by Dr. Jordan and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, “Unmasking Oppression”, and her lecture was titled, “A White House Correspondent’s View in Black & White, Unmasking Oppression.” Ryan addressed a large part of her speech to Elizabeth Barber Walker, situating her time at St. Mary’s in the broader context of the Civil Rights Movement and addressing the civil rights challenges which still remain.
Throughout her speech, Ryan characterized her relationship with the current administration as contentious, saying that she has lasting relationships with the previous administrations (Clinton, Bush and Obama), and that “Most of them call me by name. This current administration, I don’t know what they call me, but they call me.”
She also recounted a prior conflict with former Press Secretary Sean Spicer, after which Hillary Clinton defended her in a speech to the Professional Businesswomen of California, saying “April Ryan, a respected journalist with unrivaled integrity, was doing her job just this afternoon in the White House press room when she was patronized and cut off trying to ask a question,” according to The Hill.
Despite friction with the Press Secretary, however, she countered, “I love my job and I have such respect for that office, and for whoever is in that seat, I do. But here’s the thing. Freedom of the press is real. […] I have the right to ask questions. And when you think about today versus yesterday, yeah there’s a different face on it, but you still have a community that has the highest numbers of negatives in almost every category. it’s not myth; it’s not conjecture; it is a fact. Stats bear it out.”
Ryan concluded her speech with an acknowledgment that the executive office is still beholden to its people, and that young people play a crucial role in activism, citing the students of Marjory Stoneman Douglas High School’s campaign for gun control.
The event concluded with remarks from Dr. Jordan, during which she acknowledged the efforts of BSU to organize the lecture series and highlighted upcoming speakers in the Presidential Lecture Series: Kathleen Parker (March 22), David Sanger (April 6), Ed Gillespie (April 12), and Tig Notaro (April 20).