May 28, 2022
It was during her time at Susquehanna when Taiisha Swinton-Buck decided she would stand up and spark change for things that really matter — inclusion, equity and justice.
As the 2008 alumna delivered the keynote address at Susquehanna University’s 164th Commencement, she recounted her fight to be unapologetically true to her own values and to be seen and heard as a Black student on a mostly white college campus.
“People always told me to make sure I had a seat at the table, to be palatable and tolerated so people would welcome me to the table,” Swinton-Buck said, “but it was at Susquehanna where I decided to refuse. … I will not be any less than my authentic self to be ‘included’ at someone else’s table or be a token of diversity. I strived to make my own table.”
As a student, Swinton-Buck was the founding president of the Rho Theta chapter of Sigma Gamma Rho, a historically African American sorority and the first Black Greek letter organization at Susquehanna. She was also president of the Class of 2008 and the Black Student Union.
“As I matriculated through Susquehanna, I knew that public education would be where I continued my fight,” she said. “I wanted to continue fighting for justice and equity in ways that folks had never seen before.”
Now, as a nationally recognized principal of Baltimore’s Digital Harbor High School, she is doing just that. She has taken proactive measures to dismantle inequitable practices at school. She has made record-setting impacts in attendance, grade averages and graduation rates and created a robust secondary incentive system to reduce suspensions and classroom incidents. She has also established programs to ensure students have necessities — from food, to haircuts, to personal care and household items, to new technology — so they can succeed.
“Our [school’s] current vision stands on the mindset that we must create an equitable space where all students can thrive and realize their potential,” Swinton-Buck said. “Many people warned me to go slow and not make significant changes initially, but that just seemed like more time wasted. In being unapologetic, I moved swiftly … and we realized positive student outcomes in a very short time.”
In recognition of her efforts, Swinton-Buck was named 2021 Principal of the Year by the Maryland Association of Secondary School Principals, NBC’s Once in a Lifetime Principal and was a nominee for National Principal of the Year.
“Class of 2022, don’t apologize for doing the right thing in the face of adversity; don’t look for a seat at the table, create your own, and use creativity, imagination, and innovation in service to others,” Swinton-Buck said. “Whatever you choose to do, wherever you plan to plant your feet, I want you to always be authentic in your service to others because that is how you create your own table. Be bold. The world needs you now more than ever.”
Swinton-Buck received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from University President Jonathan Green. James Summers ’64, emeritus member of Susquehanna’s Board of Trustees, also received an honorary degree.
Also offering remarks at Susquehanna’s Commencement was Larry Czeponis ’22, a political science and international studies graduate from Mount Carmel, Pennsylvania. He also served as a student representative on the Board of Trustees.
“It amazes me how a place so small is able to cram in so much incredible talent, intelligence, advocacy, creativity and compassion within its borders,” Czeponis said. “I see leaders in business and politics, medicine and research, music and art, education and science, literature and poetry, and so, so much more. It is incumbent upon us to use the skills and knowledge that we have gathered here and ensure that we leave this world a better place than it was when we got here.”
In his remarks, Green congratulated the Class of 2022 for the many challenges they overcame during their four years at Susquehanna — a global pandemic, social unrest, political insurrection and more.
“But I am more optimistic for the future because of you. I believe you are capable of relegating our worst times to the past,” Green said. “I believe this because I have seen what you are capable of doing; I believe this because I know what you have learned; and I believe this because I have witnessed your kindness, your compassion, your passion and your goodness countless times as we have journeyed together.”