Participants among Jackson State University’s nearly 800 fall commencement graduates and undergraduates aimed to heed advice from keynote speaker the Rev. Dr. Kevin R. Murriel to begin working immediately on improving the quality of life for themselves and others.
Murriel, a 2008 alum of JSU, leads a congregation of more than 5,000 as senior pastor of Cascade United Methodist Church in Atlanta. He said, “The biggest mistake you can make after getting a degree is living like you’re still getting one.”
As a result, he unleashed a trove of recommendations to degree recipients inside the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center, where a combined commencement was delayed by four hours due to snowy conditions that were heavier than expected Friday.
“Celebrate today and tonight. Then, hang up your regalia; frame your degree; put it on your wall, and get to work. This life waits for no one. … You now join the ranks of the top academicians and leaders around the world, and no one can say you didn’t earn it,” Murriel said.
And, he especially credited graduates for having the “internal fortitude” and willingness to press through adversity to earn a degree.
JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. also saluted the graduates. He offered a special praise to family members and other loved ones for “going above and beyond” in their support.” Bynum also acknowledged faculty and staff who, he said, “taught, advised, challenged, nurtured and counseled graduates.”
Meanwhile, as Murriel continued, he told honorees they probably had been wondering about their future because “the parties would end; apartments would be vacated.” Now, he said, they must face the realities of becoming an official U.S. taxpayer.
Because of the impending changes, Murriel expressed empathy toward graduates because “moving from one season of life to the next always brings uncertainty.” So, he urged them to stay the course even when worried about possible failures or the thought of, perhaps, returning home to live with parents.
Remain inspired, Murriel told them. After all, he said he benefited greatly from JSU, which is counting on them to “be better than people expect you to be.” He said the urban institution, along with a community of families, have prepared them to go the extra mile.
HBCUs, in general, he said are underestimated because “systemic racism and cultural incompetence are pervasive, alive and well.” Despite that, he insisted that graduates recall the sacrifices of ancestors whose “blood, sweat, tears and toil” made America great.
He reiterated the message that they must make a difference right now and devise a strategy. Otherwise, “a plan without action is just a dream.”
“We’re counting on you to invest in the next great product; invent the next great product; start the next multibillion dollar tech company; find the next cure, establish the next school, design the next greatest building, lead the next city; or even lead a social movement against sexism, bigotry and other injustices around the world,” Murriel said.
So, he provided a roadmap to accomplish the aforementioned:
- “Don’t move beyond the dream, go for it. You don’t jump to dreams; you climb to dreams one step at a time.”
- “You cannot climb with everybody. … Everyone can’t be on your ship because bad relationships will lead to hardships that affect other partnerships. And, before you know it, you’ll be on a sinking ship. … You can’t take everyone on your journey with you. … God will provide you with the right people at the right time who can help you pursue greatness.”
- “Choose your friends wisely.”
- “If you are the best, trick yourself into thinking there’s someone always better than you and you’ll always be motivated.”
- “If your alcohol bill and club entrance fees are more than your rent each month, please straighten out your priorities.”
- “Make every effort to give as much as you can to others, especially back to your university. Selfishness has no reward, but generosity opens up more room for God to give back to you more than you can ever give to yourself.”
Then, in his final rallying cry, Murriel told graduates they deserved to be honored and recognized.
“Know you are valuable, and never let anyone devalue your worth. … “You will succeed. … We are still counting on you,” he said.