Notable alum Robert Earl Kelly urged 874 graduates to help others, stay productive, keep their word and make impassive decisions during his commencement speech for the combined graduate and undergraduate ceremony on Friday (Dec. 7) in the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center.
The Birmingham businessman began his address by advising the newest alumni of the university that he would not deliver a traditional speech with repetitive teachings.
“I am not going to talk to you about how hard work pays off, finding your passion, getting involved, voting every chance you get and how failure is not fatal,” said Kelly. “I am not going to talk to you about the importance of dreaming with vigor and enthusiasm or putting God first in your life because you have all heard that and you know that.”
Kelly, who is the founder of Kelly Road Builders, Kelly Natural Gas Pipeline and Kelly Underground, expressed, with conviction, how he felt accountable “to give the graduating class some words to hold on to that will help them along life’s next journey.”
The Jackson native emphasized his four pearls of wisdom to the audience.
“In order to get the things you want out of life, you have got to be willing to help others get what they want out of life,” Kelly said. “If you put a big group of successful people in one room together, you will find that they have two things in common. One – they’ve all been helped, and two – they’ve helped a lot of people.
The keynote speaker continued by sharing a brief story about a visit he received from a recent graduate who was unemployed.
Kelly explained that the young man who had done all the right things prior to graduation was “down and rejected” after consistently looking for employment in his area of study. He jokingly informed the graduate that “when you are unemployed and broke, your field is looking for a job.” Then he immediately hired him as a laborer.
About three weeks ago, Kelly said he received a letter from his newest employee that stated: “Throughout my time of working with the Kelly Natural Gas team, and with my goal of changing my definition of success the natural gas industry is the field that I desire to embed my passion. It is not the coolest thing to my family members who still have NFL dreams for me. However, that is only due to their lack of knowledge in the field. I would like to learn from you how to one day own my own natural gas pipeline company. I am the one person in my family that must break the curse of poverty.”
Kelly looked into the crowd and spoke with firm persuasion. “Keep doing something because it is preparing you for what you will ultimately do in life, stay productive.”
The speaker also narrated short stories that correlated with his additional pearls of knowledge, which were: “Don’t make emotional decisions and do what you say you will do. There is no diploma bigger than your word.”
Kelly, who is the former president of the Birmingham chapter and southeast regional vice president of the Jackson State University National Alumni Association, Inc., urged the soon-to-be graduates to give back to their alma mater.
“We come back for homecomings, building dedications, coronations, graduations, we love to come back, but for the life of me, I can’t understand why we don’t give back,” he said. “Here’s my challenge to you; I want you all to be the first class to have 100 percent participation of giving back.”
In addition to the awarding of bachelors, masters, specialists and doctoral degrees, a significant moment occurred when Bynum acknowledged two sitting college presidents, Dr. George French, and Dr. Herman Felton, Jr., were both a part of the fall 2018 graduating class.
Both presidents received their doctoral degree and spoke briefly to their classmates.
“Yes, I hold the juris doctorate, but I came back to Jackson State University for the Doctor of Philosophy degree, and I thank my now alma mater Thee Jackson State University for this opportunity,” said French.
“I want to say to you, the graduates, there will be impediments, there will be people who want you to fail, but if you keep your eyes focused on the prize, stay nasty and hungry, God will see you through,” said Felton.