Dominion Emmanuel Named Class of 2023 Student Commencement Speaker

Emmanuel, a Cultural Studies major and student leader, will share his perspective as an immigrant and student of color during his speech to his peers on May 19

By Melanie Thibeault
Dominion Emmanuel

BRISTOL, R.I. – When he was 8 years old, Dominion Emmanuel and his family immigrated to the United States from Nigeria. In his fourteen years since then, Emmanuel has learned a lot about adaptability and resilience, and he will share his story with his classmates as the Undergraduate Student Commencement Speaker at the May 19 ceremony. 

“I believe my experiences as a student leader and person of color are worth sharing with the RWU community,” said Emmanuel ’23, a Cultural Studies major and Legal Studies and Political Science double minor from Burlington, Mass. “My goal is to share my story while also relating with my fellow graduates. I believe that in my four years, I have learned so much from being involved on campus, and I am more than willing to share these lessons with the Class of 2023.”  

Community involvement has been a cornerstone of Emmanuel’s time at RWU. For three years, he’s assisted new students as an Orientation Advisor. On the executive board for the Barbershop Club, he’s promoted community engagement among men of color on campus and empowered members. Emmanuel is a peer mentor and the current president of Phi Alpha Delta, the pre-law fraternity. He’s also served as a member of the Africana Student Coalition, Christian Student Fellowship, and Musician’s Guild.  

After Roger, Emmanuel’s goal is to attend law school, concentrating in either immigration or employment discrimination law.  

“My time at RWU was life-changing,” he said. “People told me college would be the best four years of my life, and the four years I’ve been here have lived up to that. The people I’ve met here, including faculty and staff, have been really, really great. I learned a lot.”  

Emmanuel shared his thoughts on his time at Roger and his role as this year’s Undergraduate Student Commencement Speaker.  

Q: How does it feel to be chosen as the Student Commencement Speaker?

Emmanuel: It doesn’t feel real. When I found out, I was in shock. The best part about becoming the Undergraduate Student Commencement Speaker was seeing how happy my family was. I told my parents the day I found out, and they were screaming on the phone. I was almost in tears because of things they were saying. It’s a recap of all the hard work I’ve done over the past four years and all my years of schooling.  

Q: What inspired you to apply for the role?  

Emmanuel: I wanted to make sure that communities of color are portrayed in the Commencement speaker lineup and use this as a platform to speak from the perspective of a student of color at Roger Williams University. That’s highly important, for not only showing diversity but for emulating models we see at RWU, like with the Racism Stops With Me campaign. What are we doing to counteract racism at the institution? Having the voices of more marginalized communities heard at Commencement is definitely a step in the right direction.  

(In addition to Emmanuel, the university community will hear from Graduate Student Speaker Kelice Agosto, who is learning how to apply diversity, equity and inclusion in her academic studies and as graduate assistant at RWU's Intercultural Center, as well as celebrate leaders of racial justice, equity and inclusion as honorary degree recipients.)

Q: What was your creative process for writing your speech?  

Emmanuel: I wanted to write about my experience and make sure that my words were my words. I could have gone a bunch of different routes, but I decided to talk about my immigrant story. It’s taught me a lot – how to adapt to different environments and how to thrive in environments that aren’t necessarily created for people like me to thrive and function in. I think it speaks a great message, not only to people like me but everyone in general, about being persistent and confident in yourself.  

Q: In what ways did RWU help you grow?  

Emmanuel: Being at RWU taught me how to learn from different people and draw from different perspectives. Whether inside or outside the classroom, I had many conversations with not only my peers but with faculty. (In general) we have too many conversations that sound like we’re preaching to the choir – we’re talking to the same people and getting the same ideas. I think it’s important to have a mix of mindsets and learn from other people. That’s one of the biggest things I will carry with me.  

Q: What advice would you give to incoming students?

Emmanuel: Go for it. That could mean anything, like going to a club meeting or even just going to class. You never truly know what’s going to happen until you’re actually there. Anything you’re thinking about – any interests or career paths – go for it. Try your best and see what happens. When I started at Roger, I was in the undeclared engineering track. I decided to switch my major, and I’m glad it worked out.