Hometown hero ‘Mama’ Wanda Durant inspires Bowie State University grads

By Deborah Bailey
Contributing Editor

Bowie State University’s 659 spring graduates got a relatable boost of encouragement they could relate to from hometown heroine and philanthropic champion for underserved communities, Wanda Durant during commencement ceremonies, May 24.   

Durant, known affectionately locally as “Mama” Durant, serves as president of the Durant Family Charitable Foundation and is the mother of Phoenix Suns basketball star Kevin Durant.  Mama Durant treated the audience to a heartfelt exchange, sharing passages from her life’s journey.         

Wanda “Mama” Durant spoke to an audience at Bowie State University during spring 2024 commencement ceremonies on May 24. (Courtesy photo)

“OK. Let me just be Mama Durant,” she said after pausing from prepared remarks and transitioning flawlessly to an extemporaneous, transparent conversation with Bowie’s graduates.

The audience roared its approval as Durant spent the next 10 minutes in an unscripted dialogue about life as a young single mother, and her raw determination to create a life for her sons that supported success.    

“When I stand here and look at you graduates, I see myself, I see my sons,” Durant said. 

“See, I know what it takes to persevere. I came from the streets of Capitol Heights, Maryland. At the time it was the drug capital of the world,” she said to cheering members of the audience, referencing the small Maryland community bordering northeast and southeast D.C. where she raised her children as a single mother. 

“I had to raise two sons on my own when I was fearful and not knowing who I was or what I had to offer the world.  I had to do what you did and continue to strive on,” Durant said. “I made a promise to them that we were going to have a plan. Not just dreams but a plan attached to it.” 

Durant then transitioned from her family’s story to admonish graduates to live for more than their own success.  

“All of your success is not just for your glory. It’s for you to look back to those coming behind you. Continue to pave the way for them” Durant said.  

Liera Ford from Suitland, Maryland, reflected on her own parents as Durant spoke about the determination needed to encourage her children to succeed.     

“I totally connect with Ms. Durant,” said the newly minted business management bachelor’s degree recipient.  

“I know what it feels like to receive that level of support from your parents. My mom and dad stood up for me every step of the way. I was due to graduate last year, but here I am today and my parents and siblings are here with me. This is a big milestone for me,” said Ford with tears in her eyes. 

Small but significant touches make HBCU graduations unique events. Bowie State graduates were treated to congratulatory messages by both Vice President Kamala Harris and Gov. Wes Moore. 

Finally, someone is going to make sure graduates are camera ready for their moment to walk across the stage.  At Bowie State, that person is Shinzira Shomade, College of Education retention coordinator and double Bowie State University graduate. 

Shomade straightened collars, buttoned shirts and told graduates to lift their heads high just before they walked on stage to receive their degrees from President Aminta H. Breaux and University Provost Guy Alain Ammousou. 

“It brings me immense pleasure, honor and gratification to participate in the commencement ceremony, preparing our visionaries and change agents for this exciting moment,” Shomade said. 

Breaux announced several major initiatives, scholarships and recognitions received by the campus, including a ribbon cutting this summer of the new Martin Luther King Jr. Communication Arts & Humanities Building. The $159 million facility is scheduled to replace a 50-year-old academic building that currently bears the civil rights leader’s name.    

“If you don’t remember anything else this president said, go out and vote,” Breaux said emphatically. “Go out and vote.”

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