We can’t talk about #GradSZN without acknowledging the graduates who gave life before some of us were born. The graduates who dominated their academics, while finding time to cultivate relationships and stomp the yard at Hillman College.
Dwayne, Whitley, Ron, Kim, Freddie, and other cast members of “A Different World,” showed the world what it meant to be Black and excel at the same time.
Although the show was fictional, they depicted a lot of issues that are relevant today. They tackled political and social topics including AIDS/HIV, racial tension, colorism and sexual harassment. It’s mind blowing to believe that these issues are still relevant today.
“A Different World” was not simply a show in the 80s and 90s. It was a time of learning, evaluating and drawing inspiration. Some of the cast sat down with Oprah on “Where Are They Now” in 2014 to discuss the show.
Cree Summer, also known as Freddie Brooks, said people told her that they would’ve never gone to college without seeing their show. The cast also appeared on “The Steve Harvey Show,” and were surprised at how a young lady centered her Master’s thesis around the show.
Let’s reflect on the show and the messages left behind for graduates and others looking to simply achieve a goal.
First, take pride in your blackness. As if the entire series didn’t make you proud to be Black, there were several episodes that focused on race. These episodes were educational and challenged others to reflect.
One of the most touching episodes is called Mammy Dearest. In this episode, Whitley planned a dorm dedication ceremony that featured African American art, music and dance. Kim was instantly turned off to the event when she saw a Mammy figurine.
We eventually learned that Kim’s dislike of Mammy started when she was a young girl. She participated in a costume contest as a Nubian Princess, which she took great pride in. Her and her show-stopping costume won the contest, but she was offended when she was announced as the winner.
She was referred to as Aunt Jemima, which made her insecure about her complection for years to come. Before she attended the exhibit, she went to The Pit, Hillman’s eatery and hang out spot, where Mr. Gaines got her all the way together. He reminded her of what Mammy stands for, which is strength and love.
“Do you know why Mammy is smiling? Huh? Because she knows the treasure that she’s got inside,” Mr. Gaines said.
This allowed Kim to free herself from her insecurities, and confidently portray Mammy in the dedication.
Secondly, remain close to your inner circle. This was shown from the first to the final season. This group was thick as thieves and went through everything together.
Freddie dated an athlete in season two’s “No Means No” episode who had a questionable reputation. Dwayne spoke with the athlete about an experience he had with another young lady, and Dwayne immediately went into defense mode. He knew the experience they talked about was wrong.
Dwayne then went to Freddie and warned her about dating the athlete, but she didn’t listen. He later went to his resident director, Walter Oakes, to discuss how men should treat women without bringing up what he and the athlete talked about.
Dwayne, Freddie, and the athlete, attended a school function, and the athlete persuaded Freddie to go see the stars with him. The athlete tried to force Freddie into a situation that she was uncomfortable with, but Dwayne showed up in the nick of time to defend his friend.
This is what it means to have your friends’ back and do whatever is necessary to make sure they’re safe.
Lastly, ball on a budget. The 80s-90s was a pivotal time in the fashion world. Our favorite Hillman students displayed steampunk glasses, fur, bold colors , oversized and patched clothes and off-the-shoulder tops amongst many others.
Whitley, was fashion forward, and was consistent with her fashion with hints of surprises along the way. She was classy and trendy, but found time to throw in leather, tribal prints and different fabrics and patterns.
The fashionable Hillman alumna learned in the “Occupational Hazards” episode that it’s about the person in the clothes, not the clothes on the person. She was set to interview for a job but felt like she had nothing to wear. Dwayne told her not to buy anything, but she unsurprisingly didn’t listen.
Instead of wearing one of the less-fashionable dresses that her mother-in-law sent her, she decided to buy a $700 suit that she planned to return. Of course that plan fell through when she spilt wine on it.
Whitley didn’t get the job and decided to file for unemployment in a floor-length fur jacket, sunglasses, and an attitude. When she discovered that her fashion wouldn’t win her favor in the unemployment office, she put on one of the dress that was sent to her and realized that expensive clothes wouldn’t solve her problems.
She taught us that looking fashionable, or getting a job, doesn’t have to come with expensive labels. Be confident and humble in whatever you’re wearing, whether it’s $700 or $70.
These are only a few out of the dozens of lessons we learned from watching A Different World. Graduates, always take pride in where you come from, keep the right people in your corner, and pop out with a look that’s within your budget at your next event or presentation. Congratulations on what you’ve achieved so far and where you’re headed.