WASHINGTON — On a warm D.C. afternoon, an even warmer homecoming took over a public high school in Northwest.
Duke Ellington School of the Arts teemed with excited students as alumnus Dave Chappelle returned to the school on Friday to receive the key to the city and give a gift of his own. Chappelle graduated in 1991 and went on to become a successful comedian and actor.
“The key to the city is the highest honor an individual can receive from our nation’s capital and I am very stingy with them,” said D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser when she bestowed the honor.
In the auditorium of the newly built, state-of-the-art school, Bowser praised Chappelle for his commitment to the District and his many visits to his alma mater over the years. She describes the entertainer as a vocal supporter of D.C. statehood and a defender of D.C. schools.
“He helped D.C. Public Schools trend at the Emmy Awards, all across the world,” Bowser said.
Chappelle took to the stage to the applause of Ellington students and shared words of encouragement and life lessons that may perhaps help them in their future careers.
“Right now, you guys are making your future and this is a very important time in your life,” he said.
“And you guys got to be kind to each other and you guys have to help each other get through these times, so you’ll be successful.”
Chappelle also reminisced about his school days, which included the times he would mop the floor in the auditorium. He said while cleaning, he would watch the seniors perform and they would inspire him to work harder.
When he left the popular “Chappelle’s Show,” the comedian told students some people said he would never return to show business. He said he wouldn’t accept that, so he worked hard and never gave up his art.
Before finishing his talk, Chappelle presented the school with a present: his first Emmy, which he won for an appearance on Saturday Night Live. Chappelle said he hopes the Emmy would serve as a reminder for students, that they could also win one.
After leaving the auditorium, Chappelle spent close to three hours touring the school and watching students perform. The comedian said he was impressed by the students and their drive to succeed.
“All the talent I’m seeing is inspiring, man,” he said.
Chappelle stopped to watch Lonell Johnson, a senior at the school, and a friend perform jazz music.
Johnson said it meant a lot to him and the school that the entertainer hasn’t forgotten about where he came from, saying, “I feel like it is commitment; he’s still representing the family that we call Duke Ellington.”
Makael Exum, 15, got a chance to be on stage with Chappelle and hold the Emmy the comedian gave to the school. Exum said it was an honor to meet Chappelle and hold the statue.
But Exum also had separate future plans, adding, “Me holding [it] just tells me that I don’t want yours — I’m gonna go get my own.”