Nearly 1,000 Candidates Received Bachelor’s, Master’s or Doctoral Degrees
Rain was the backdrop, but achievement was at center stage for Morgan State University’s 142nd Spring Commencement Exercises. Tom Joyner, national radio host, philanthropist and community activist, gave the keynote address at the Undergraduate Exercises on Saturday, May 19, just before the 726 candidates of the Class of 2018 — including the University’s first-ever degree recipients in strategic communications — received their baccalaureates. These newest MSU alumni joined the 233 candidates who were presented master’s degrees or doctorates at the separate Commencement Exercises for the School of Graduate Studies, on Thursday, May 17, in Morgan’s Murphy Fine Arts Center.
Spirits were high among the attendees at the Undergraduate ceremony, in Hughes Stadium, despite the steady downpour and unseasonably cool temperature. Contingency plans had been drawn up to move the ceremony indoors to Hill Field House and hold it in two parts, to allow for adequate seating out of the bad weather that was forecast. But the soon-to-be graduates voted overwhelmingly the day before the event to move ahead with the outdoor exercises.
MSU President David Wilson and MSU Board of Regents Chairman Kweisi Mfume presented honorary Doctor of Laws to Joyner and to Morgan graduate Gloria Ladson-Billings, Ph.D. (Class of 1968), former Kellner Family distinguished professor of urban education at the University of Wisconsin–Madison and current president of the National Academy of Education. Former Morgan professor and renowned documentary filmmaker Stanley E. Nelson Jr. received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Joyner used his 20 minutes at the podium to remind the young people in front of him about the importance of continuing the tradition of excellence in Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs). Joyner is an HBCU graduate — Tuskegee Institute, now Tuskegee University, Class of 1970 — and his Tom Joyner Foundation is one of the nation’s leading supporters of the institutions, having given more than $65 million to HBCUs since its inception in 1998.
“No one from an HBCU succeeds all on their own. That’s what I love about the HBCU system,” Joyner said. “Someone is rooting for you every step of the way.”
Joyner spotlighted his own background, growing up in Tuskegee, Ala., among relatives who also graduated from Historically Black Institutions and “seeing ordinary (African Americans) do extraordinary things.” And he spotlighted the challenges facing HBCUs in the nation’s current political climate.
“If we believe HBCUs are amazing institutions, worthy of existence, because we heard it on the news, then we’ll believe HBCUs are unworthy and no longer relevant, because we heard it on the news. That’s why knowing our history is so important, and the best place to learn is from the mouths of people who saw it and lived it….,” Joyner said.
“Nothing that is happening (with HBCUs) today began with you, Class of 2018, and it didn’t begin with me,” he continued. “And if we believe that it begins with us, that will mean that when we’re no longer around, it will end with us. Our past is too rich for that.”
“…How can we make sure that Historically Black Colleges and Universities don’t become black history? …We have to commit,” Joyner said.
Before departing the stage, Joyner left the graduating class with some words of advice, instructing them to eat better and exercise; get home safely; look out for one another; be willing to fight for what’s right; and register to vote, and then vote. He also then proceeded to give each graduate crossing the stage a five-dollar bill to invest in their future, challenging them to grow it into a more substantial amount later and to use it not only for their own future but to help others.
Three degree candidates with perfect 4.0 grade point averages shared the title of class valedictorian: psychology major Charleene R. Folks, architecture and environmental design major David Ryan Couto and nutritional science major Chene Ross were recognized by MSU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Gloria Gibson during the Undergraduate Exercises.
President Wilson presented two bachelor’s degree candidates with the President’s Second Mile Award, an annual honor recognizing outstanding leadership and participation in student affairs: management major Corey D. Dyson and political science major Hamidah Famuditimi. Social work major Saudah Y. Ahmad, electrical engineering major Paige J. Harvey and architecture and environmental design major Thabang Nyondo received the President’s Award for Exceptional Creative Achievement.
Other highlights of the Undergraduate Commencement Exercises included the annual recognition of Morgan’s 50th anniversary class. Members of the Class of 1968 headed the procession into Hughes Stadium wearing gold-colored regalia. The weather reminded these classmates of their own Commencement 50 years earlier, which was also celebrated on a rainy day.
Two days earlier, on May 17, family and friends packed the Gilliam Concert Hall in the Murphy Fine Arts building for Morgan’s second annual Graduate School Commencement exercises. During the ceremony, 233 degrees were conferred, 27 doctoral and 206 master’s, including the first-ever awarded for the Master of Education. Among those to receive the inaugural degree was Maryland State Sen. Joan Carter Conway.
Graduates were left encouraged by speeches given by two of their peers, Tyrone Stanley, who received his Ph.D. in English, and Jessica White, who received her Master’s in Public Health. Stanley, who was diagnosed with cancer during his matriculation at Morgan, received a standing ovation after sharing that he is now cancer free and urged fellow graduates to persevere despite challenges that may arise. White followed, reminding graduates that success is a continuous journey.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified doctoral research institution offering more than 100 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.
# # #