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From DC college student to VP candidate: A look back at Sen. Kamala Harris' years at Howard University

Howard University alumni who know the VP candidate reflect on her ambitious college years and generosity to her alma mater.

WASHINGTON — One of Sen. Kamala Harris' oldest friends said that her flashback memory of the Howard University grad in her college days has to be the short '80s haircut she sported, the red lipstick she wore, her uniquely lovable laugh and the fervor with which she attacked goals. 

"Every time I talk to her now, we laugh about it," Sonya Lockett said of their reminiscing on college days.

The 55-year-old senator was announced as Joe Biden's vice presidential running mate Monday, and her fellow Howard alums are praising his choice. 

A 1986 graduate, Harris was a busy student while at Howard, and double majored in political science and economics. She spent her time at Howard University growing her knowledge of politics and issues facing the country, interning as a mailroom clerk for California Sen. Alan Cranston. Harris was also a member of the debate team, joined Alpha Kappa Alpha and protested in D.C. against Apartheid in South Africa. 

Being in D.C. during the late-80s is something that Lockett believes helped guide Harris further into politics. From working on Capitol Hill to seeing impoverished Black neighborhoods in Washington, Harris' perspective of the nation grew during her time at Howard.

"We were in the nation's capital, so we were in the base of power of the country," Lockett said. "But at the same time we're in the middle of residential neighborhoods, so we saw the power and the people making the decisions and then you saw the people that were affected by it." 

Her ambitious years in college and generosity to her alma mater is something Howard alumni speak highly of when talking about the VP candidate. 

Harris' sorority sister, Inez Brown, described her as a firecracker while in college, who was very smart, focused, and someone who could easily engage in conversation with others. 

"It was no surprise to us -- her sorority sisters and classmates -- when she became attorney general of California, when she became a senator," Brown said. "We've been along for the journey to support her however we can."

Despite being in the same sorority in the '80s, Jennifer Thomas, Howard University School of Communications associate professor and journalism sequence coordinator, feels she has gotten to know Harris more in recent years, as a fellow alum. From seeing her speak at the 2017 Howard University spring commencement to when she went out of her way to meet students from her college during the 2016 DNC National Convention in Philadelphia, Thomas said she's thoroughly enjoyed getting to know the senator better. 

"One student was from Northern California and was just so excited to have a chance to meet her," Thomas said. "It was a big moment for the students, and it was a big moment for us to see her on that stage in Philadelphia. And now here we are four years later, and she's going to be on the Democratic ticket."

From social media to the university's website, Howard alumni are rejoicing over Harris' selection. 

"As Sen. Harris embarks upon this new chapter in her life, and in our country’s history, she is poised to break two glass ceilings in our society with one fell swoop of her Howard hammer," Howard University President Wayne A.I. Frederick said. "The HBCU community and I will be watching." 

And while the election is still three months away, students and professors will use Harris being a vice presidential candidate as a teaching moment. 

Thomas said that when Harris was running as a presidential candidate, it gave her a great example to use in her journalism classes to reflect on the issues, and how covering a candidate goes beyond school allegiances. 

Howard University – with its legacy of fighting for truth, excellence and service has a list of impressive alumni. But this is a seminal moment in the institution’s storied history. A defining moment for the Howard community and the nation.

Lockett, Brown and Thomas all said they would be wearing their Howard gear and colors proudly come Election Day in November, and that this nomination is an affirmation of not only their school's success, but of the ambitious, professionals that HBCUs produce. 

Harris was sworn in as a senator in 2017, becoming the second African-American woman and first South Asian-American senator in history. She has been a lifelong public safety and civil rights leader who currently serves on the Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs Committee, the Select Committee on Intelligence, the Committee on the Judiciary and the Committee on the Budget. 

Howard University awarded Harris the Outstanding Alumni Award for her extraordinary work in fields of law and public service in 2006.

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