~ Commencement Highlights History and Progress ~
The numbers alone were enough to grab one’s attention at Morgan’s 138th annual Spring Commencement exercises, which took place this past May 17 at the University’s Hughes Stadium, on the 60th anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s Brown v. Board of Education ruling. By MSU President David Wilson’s count, more than 1,300 candidates received degrees during the University’s 2013–14 academic year, including a record 52 doctoral graduates and the first two students to complete Morgan’s Bachelor of Fine Arts program. Add the impressive stories behind statistics like these; the attendance of the 50th anniversary class, the Class of 1964, in gold caps and gowns; and the two guest speakers who are first African Americans in their high positions — Calvin G. Butler Jr., CEO of Baltimore Gas and Electric Company, and Eric H. Holder Jr., U.S. attorney general — and a truly historic event was evident.
Among the candidates on the stadium field was Nicholas Edwards, a graduate of Baltimore Polytechnic Institute and a recipient of Morgan’s prestigious Regent’s Scholarship. The 3.9 grade-point average he earned on his way to getting his bachelor’s degree in information science and systems, and the confidence he gained by scoring in the 95th percentile on the Graduate Management Admissions Test, helped secure his acceptance to the University of Virginia School of Law. He has deferred attendance at the law school to enroll in Wells Fargo’s securities analyst training program.
There was Shanna Green, who received her Bachelor of Arts degree in sociology. Green endured a childhood riddled with abuse in Baltimore’s foster care system and group homes, made her way to Morgan with the guidance of caring mentors and pastors, and started an organization to help Morgan students who emerge from the foster care system.
There was the father and son pair among the engineering graduates: Samuel Aimufua earned his Master of Science degree in transportation and urban infrastructure studies, and Osas Aimufua earned his Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering.
There were nontraditional students, such as Shardé Harrison of Baltimore, who earned her bachelor’s degree in family and consumer sciences after a 10-year academic journey in higher education, including time off to be primary caretaker for her grandmother. She plans to become a teacher now in the Baltimore City Public Schools.
There was Kemi Akinrimisi, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology, as relatives who had traveled from Ondo Town, Nigeria, looked on proudly from the stands.
The Commencement speaker, Calvin Butler Jr., told these and the other candidates about the failures he experienced in his exceptional career, on the way to his current position as head of the nation’s oldest gas utility. Butler, a first-generation college student, told the degree candidates, “If I can do it, so can you…. With such a rich history and strong foundation, how can you…as a proud graduate of Morgan State, not believe in the power of you?”
Butler’s address was followed by remarks from Attorney General Holder commemorating Brown v. Board of Education, the landmark ruling that brought down the legal foundation of racially segregated education in the U.S.
“…Thanks to Brown and those who made it possible, your generation will never know a world in which ‘separate but equal’ was the law of the land,” said Holder, who went on to state that the greatest threat to equal opportunity in the U.S. today is policies that impede that equality “in fact, if not in form.” He urged the soon-to-be graduates “…to find ways to serve your communities and give back to our nation. Never hesitate to ask difficult questions and call attention to uncomfortable truths. And work, above all, to promote understanding, to foster inclusion and to push our nation forward.”
Briana Bobbitt, secretary of Morgan’s senior class, delivered the farewell address with the composure of a veteran, in front of the high-profile party on the platform. Her four-part message to her classmates was never to be comfortable with their accomplishments, never to give up, never to accept limitations on their abilities that others try to impose and never to be afraid of failure.
President Wilson and Kweisi Mfume, chairman of the MSU Board of Regents, conferred honorary doctorates to Butler, Holder, theoretical physicist Sylvester J. Gates Jr., Joseph T. Jones Jr., founder, president and CEO of the Center for Urban Families, and Carl W. Turnipseed, Morgan Class of 1969, the 2014 Alumnus of the Year, who retired in 2012 as executive vice president of the Financial Services Group at the Federal Reserve Bank of New York.
In his closing remarks, Dr. Wilson told the new graduates the University had deliberately tested their ability and resolve to succeed in higher education, “and we have dared you to dream dreams bigger than those you had when you entered Fair Morgan…. We are really proud of each and every one of you here at Morgan, and we look forward to hearing of the incredible success that we all know will come your way.”
The Spring exercises were the second historic commencement for the University this past academic year. More than 300 candidates received their degrees during Morgan’s inaugural December Commencement, which was held at Murphy Fine Arts Center this past Dec. 20. ABC News anchor Byron Pitts was the speaker.