Hill Harper, a man in a robe, speaking into a microphone at Providence College.

“You are a Friar. Friars hold doors open…” – Hill Harper to PC grads – Ann Clanton

by Ann Clanton, contributing writer

Photos: Providence College

You are a Friar. And Friars hold doors open. That was the common theme that actor, author and humanitarian, Hill Harper, reminded the graduates when he delivered the commencement speech, and received the Doctor of Humanities at Providence College’s 105th commencement on Sunday, May 21st at the Amica Mutual Pavillion (AMP) in downtown Providence.

During his remarks following the students receiving their degrees and an introduction that listed his academic accomplishments as a Brown University, Harvard University Law and Kennedy School Graduate, it was his reflections about what it means to be a product of Friartown that most resonated with the graduates.

Hill reminded the graduates that they were walking into a world that is not as safe as Friartown. Referencing that because they are from Friartown and were nurtured in this special community, and they are prepared to face the challenges of climate change, gun violence, and mental health, all of which he says that his generation put upon them, and he extended an apology on behalf of his generation.

Best known for starring in numerous TV and film projects, including CSI: New York, The Good Doctor, and He Got Game, Harper is also an author, with four New York Times Best Sellers. His award-winning book, The Wealth Cure: Putting Money in Its Place, addresses ways to solve the racial wealth gap, and wealth inequality. He addressed this in his speech, noting, “There is an extreme gap in wealth, and with income inequality, and we have to be willing to have these discussions because this is not good for anybody,” Hill told the graduates, “You cannot have one percent control ninety percent of the wealth, it is not sustainable”.

He told the graduates that as Friars they have an obligation to answer the call from other Friars who have stumbled. He spoke fondly about his time in Providence as a student and how he was inspired during his recent visit to give the Dr. King Jr. Convocation at Providence College. Hill admittedly says that when he visits Providence, he stops by Thayer Street to visit the Brown University Bookstore to pick up “swag”.

During his commencement remarks it was clear that he genuinely enjoyed his time in Providence, remarking that he preferred “The Dunk” to “The AMP”, because The Dunk had become synonymous with Providence College Friars.

In speaking to Harper prior to commencement, he remarked that he enjoys opportunities like that one, and his sheer excitement to speak to the graduates was clear, along with compassion for what they all had endured with studying and living an adjusted college life, amidst Covid, isolation, and testing.

His universal message for all students is to follow your dreams and not let fear stop you. And over and over again, to remember that they are Friars, and Friars have a special obligation to one another.

Harper’s message was not to be complacent in accepting rising inequality, racism, climate change, and mental health among youth as the norm, they have the wisdom and compassion as Friars not to accept this as the norm.

Harper quoted another Harvard Law graduate and politician Bobby Kennedy –“The Future does not belong to those who are fearful of bold projects and new ideas, but belongs to those who have passion, reason, and courage.”  In closing, Harper said, “I wish the Providence College Class of 2023 good luck and hope they find the passion and courage to address all those challenges they faced as undergraduates and address the ills of society that currently live among us all. Go Friars!”

In between acting and running his multiple businesses and philanthropic endeavors such as the Manifest Your Destiny Foundation, a nonprofit dedicated to empowering underserved youth and the Pierce and Hill Harper Arts Foundation) it looks like politics may be in the near future for Harper. He confirmed that he is considering a run for the United State Senate seat set to be vacated by retiring Michigan Senator Debbie Stebanow. Over the last few weeks, he has made multiple stops across Michigan, including a visit with the state’s Democratic Black Caucus.

In speaking with Harper, his mannerisms and tone remind one of one of his closest connections – friendship with fellow Harvard University Law school grad, President Barack Obama. With acting accomplishments aside, Harper has also found success as the founder of Black Wall Street Digital Wallet and App and as the co-owner of an award-winning New Orleans hotel, International House. He has a thriving coffee franchise in Detroit called The Roasting Plant.

In addition to Harper, the other honorary degree recipients were:

Rev. Msgr. Alex Bobby Benson ’97 G, founder of Matthew 25 House, a ministry in Koforidua, Ghana, dedicated to helping people diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, who received an honorary Doctor of Public Service degree.

Charles M. Borkoski ’71, retired vice president for marketing and portfolio development for McLaughlin & Moran, and active in alumni affairs at the college since his graduation, who received an honorary doctor of commercial science degree.

Donna J. Formichella, M.D. ’78, the first woman to graduate as a general surgeon from Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles, and partner emeritus at Southern California Permanente Medical Group, who received an honorary Doctor of Science degree.

Sheila M. Harrity, Ed.D. ’87, the 2014 Massachusetts High School Principal of the Year, now working for the Massachusetts Association of Vocational Administrators, who received an honorary Doctor of Education degree. She was the keynote speaker at the commencement for School of Continuing Education and graduate students on Friday, May 19.

Robert J. Palmisano ’66, a global business executive and emeritus trustee of PC, now president and CEO of Wright Medical Group, who received a doctor of commercial science degree.


Ann-Allison Clanton was born and raised in Providence, Rhode Island. As principal of Ann Clanton Communications, Ann has more than two decades of experience as a communications and public affairs consultant. She has written features and profiles articles for the Providence American Newspaper and Ethnic Online Magazine.

Among the notable persons interviewed include former U. S. Ambassador Andrew Young, Dr. Cornell West, former Florida Congressman Allen West (R-FL) and Ringling Brothers and Barnum Bailey Circus first African American Ringmaster, Johnathan Lee Iverson.

Ann is the founder of the Rhode Island Black Film Festival and a founding member of the Southern New England Association of Black Journalists.