Sen. Elizabeth Warren of Massachusetts Called for Graduates to ‘Change the Rules’
A buoyant crowd shrugged off dreary weather to celebrate the sixth December Commencement Exercises of Morgan State University today, in MSU’s Talmadge L. Hill Field House. The 400-plus bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree candidates heard a direct appeal for civic activism from Elizabeth Warren, senior U.S. senator from Massachusetts, who delivered the Commencement address. Sen. Warren; Morgan graduate and recently retired Morgan senior administrator Clara I. Adams, Ph.D.; and Eugene M. DeLoatch, Ph.D., recently retired founding dean of Morgan’s Clarence M. Mitchell Jr. School of Engineering, received honorary Doctor of Laws degrees during the ceremony.
As the soon-to-be graduates assembled on the second floor of the University Student Center and waited to file into the Field House to receive their baccalaureates, most were focused on their future careers. Some, like political science major Laco Johnson III, from Washington, D.C., also turned their thoughts to the Commencement speaker.
“I think it’s great to have a senator speaking….but I think I lean a little bit to the left of most of her policies,” said Johnson, a nontraditional student who returned to Morgan to complete his degree program after 10 years in the workforce. “I think the senators, and the House (of Representatives) along with them, need to go with a green plan (for environmental sustainability). I want to be an environmental lawyer. The country needs them.”
In his introduction of Sen. Warren, Morgan President David Wilson outlined Warren’s long career in the law, which began with her J.D. from Rutgers University in 1976 and continued with her work as a law professor and faculty administrator at six universities, including her last tenure, at Harvard University. Her research made her an expert on bankruptcy and the financial pressures facing middle-class families and bolstered her winning run for the U.S. Senate in 2012.
Sen. Warren told her Morgan audience a personal story of her family’s financial struggles when she was a child, a story, she said, that motivates her current relentless persistence in advocacy for consumers and middle-class families. Her father worked as a janitor, and when he had a heart attack, her mother had to take her first job outside of the home, at age 50. The minimum-wage job saved the family’s home from foreclosure.
“For a long time, I thought that story was about my mother. I thought that story was about her courage and her grit…. But eventually I came to understand that that story was also a story about the government,” Sen. Warren said. “…When I was a little girl, minimum wage was enough to cover expenses for a family of three. Today, full-time minimum wage is not enough to pay for rent on a median two-bedroom apartment in any state in America…. What happened? Washington changed the rules…. Hard work matters, but rules matter, too.”
Government rules have also systematically discriminated against people of color in the U.S., leading to today’s record low homeownership rate for black citizens and the record high wealth gap between blacks and whites in the country, Sen. Warren charged.
“Under the rules of commencement speakers, I am required to say, ‘Work hard.’ Which you should,” she said. “But I’m here with a bolder message: ‘It’s time to change the rules.’ ”
Student achievement was also spotlighted. MSU Interim Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Anna McPhatter recognized the honors graduates in the audience, including the highest-ranking student, biology major Mopeninujesu Oluyinka, who graduated summa cum laude with a perfect 4.0 GPA. President Wilson presented Bachelor of Science in biology graduate Akunna Mezu with the President’s Second Mile Award for outstanding leadership and participation in student affairs and honored Emmanuel Balraj, Bachelor of Science in architecture and environmental design graduate, with the President’s Award for Exceptional Creative Achievement.
Senior Class President Emani Majors, a construction management major from Baltimore, gave a stirring salute to the graduates, tracing an arc of accomplishment from Morgan students’ pioneering role in the civil rights movement to the recent 100 percent pass rate of Morgan nursing graduates on the national licensure exam.
“Morgan State University is you,” Majors said. “So now as you’ve walked across this stage and into your prospective career paths, I challenge you to show the world who Morgan State University is through your work ethic. Show them who Morganites are through a compassionate heart and relentless determination…. Show others, through example, why we say, ‘Growing the Future, Leading the World.’ ”
Before giving his closing remarks to the graduates, President Wilson officially recognized five prominent Morgan leaders who recently retired or will retire from the University this year: Dr. Adams; Dr. DeLoatch; Cheryl Y. Hitchcock, MSU vice president for Institutional Advancement; Burney J. Hollis, Ph.D., dean emeritus of the MSU College of Liberal Arts; and Patricia L. Welch, Ph.D., dean of the School of Education and Urban Studies.