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‘With Community, We’ll Always Get Through’

Student Commencement Speaker, Journalism Major Encourages Perseverance, Connection

By Annie Krakower

Tolulope Ajayi portrait

Student speaker Tolulope Ajayi is graduating with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and minors in law and society and Spanish.

Photo by John T. Consoli

In 2020, while Tolulope Ajayi was transitioning from a virtual final semester of high school to a remote freshman year at the University of Maryland, she watched on screens as communities across the nation protested racial injustice. With COVID-19 lockdowns in full force, news broadcasts gave her a window into a tumultuous world—and the spark to help improve it.

“As a woman of color seeing what was happening in our country, I knew without the news, these stories would just be swept under a rug,” she said. “I just have always had this inherent need to help people and want their stories to be told and not be overlooked.”

Now UMD’s 2024 student commencement speaker is preparing to shine a light on those stories as she graduates with a bachelor’s degree in broadcast journalism and minors in law and society and Spanish.

The Howard County native has “always been a big talker,” she said, with her chattiness getting her in trouble during kindergarten naptimes. A Banneker/Key scholar and member of the University Honors program, she channeled that gregariousness and curiosity into her journalism education at UMD. Her experience spanned university publications—like The Black Explosion, The Diamondback and Capital News Service (CNS)—as well as ABC7 WJLA-TV as a news intern and NBC News as a White House unit and general assignment intern.

At each stop, she delved into difficult topics, whether through a long-form story on youth crime in D.C., a broadcast of Israel-Hamas war protests on the National Mall or coverage of President Joe Biden’s son Hunter’s arraignment—which required a last-minute dash to a courthouse in Wilmington, Del.

“It really allows people to trust you when you can do things with an eager mindset,” she said. “I feel like that has really prepared me for a future as a journalist, to always take every opportunity as a reason to grow and learn. And even if it’s scary and unexpected, it doesn’t mean it’s going to be bad.”

That attitude has helped her earn several accolades in the field, including top finishes in the Chesapeake AP Broadcasters Association contest and the Hearst Journalism Awards Program, the “Cadillac of competitions,” said Mel Coffee, CNS Broadcast Bureau director and Ajayi’s mentor.

“She will take a piece and report it and write it and produce it in such a way that it really humanizes stories that are difficult to understand or difficult to connect with,” he said. “When we can connect with people and experience the things that they have, we tend to have more empathy toward them. It tends to make us take action.”

After graduation, Ajayi will work as a reporter and anchor for a local station in Tucson, Ariz. Even as newsrooms contract around the country, it’s important to her to persevere, just as she and the rest of the Class of 2024 did through the pandemic.

“It felt like the world was literally ending while we were ending high school. We found each other and we were able to get through it,” she said. “With community, we'll always get through.”



Maryland Today is produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications for the University of Maryland community on weekdays during the academic year, except for university holidays.