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Alumnus Irving Matthews shares path to build generational wealth with grads

Nearly 450 students graduated from Southern University and A&M College during the Fall Commencement activities on Friday, Dec. 10 at the F.G. Clark Activity Center. 

Represented were students from four countries, 18 states, 41 parishes, ages 19 to 77. Honors cords, medals, scriptures, pictures of relatives, and stoles adorned graduation robes. Classmates chatted about what this milestone meant and discussed post-graduation plans. Goals for the graduating class include attending law school, studying at MIT, pursuing master's degrees, and serving in the armed forces.

Prior to officially becoming graduates of The Southern University, candidates received some words of encouragement and wisdom from Irving Matthews, a Southern alumnus and entrepreneur. The philanthropist and first-generation businessman spoke of his beginnings and the turbulent times of society at that time.

“I grew up in a time of ‘colored only’ and ‘white only water’ fountains and bathrooms, the lack of the right to vote, and lynchings throughout the country that were very heavy in the South,” said Matthews, a Lake Charles, Louisiana, native. “I say this not to revisit the painful history but to make a reality point. Back then, if you didn’t go to college, mainly professional opportunities were virtually non-existent for people of color.”

Matthews received a degree from Southern in electrical engineering, which he called his 'solid foundation.' He worked his way through college and had the opportunity to become an automobile dealer post-graduation, which was risky considering the field being titled to white Americans. Now, he is the president and owner of The Matthews Automotive Group, which includes four franchises — Ford, Kia, Toyota, and Mazda with $370 million in annual sales for 2021. His company is the largest Black African Toyota dealer in the United States.

Matthews’ family wanted more for him and his sister, so building generational wealth has always been important to him. Matthews created his businesses for his sons who work alongside him. Back in 1970, what he accomplished would be seemingly unheard of, but he made space for himself and other Black vehicle dealers to follow and credits Southern for that guidance. He encouraged graduates to do the same.

Matthews closed his address by stressing the importance of taking advantage of opportunities, considering that there is a spotlight on Historically Black Colleges and Universities and that companies are focusing on increasing diversity and inclusion.

“Ride the wave while the waves are tsunami-like because one day those tsunami waves could one day be like minor ripples in a pond,” he said. “Make yourself known in the field you want to pursue through continuing to educate yourselves and aggressive marketing.”

Go to for the replay of the full ceremony, photo gallery and more.