Undergraduate commencement speaker Brigadier Gen. (Ret.) Robert Crear reminded more than 900 Jackson State University students receiving their bachelor’s degrees that “freedom isn’t free” and urged them to develop a blueprint for life.
A 1975 JSU alum, Crear welded the past and the present during an early-morning address Saturday, May 4, inside the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center. He said an ideal “life blueprint” always includes a foundation built on values. These include integrity, dignity and respect.
The native of Vicksburg is president and CEO of The Crear Group LLC, a business development and governmental relations consulting firm in the River City. As well, he is chairman of Rye Development, a leading developer of new hydroelectric power on existing dams in Boston, Massachusetts.
He told the audience that “a historian said true success can be summed up in the words of former President Harry S. Truman who said, ‘I studied the lives of great men and women, and I found that the men and women who go to the top were those who did the jobs they had in hand, with everything they had of energy and enthusiasm.’ ”
A reflective Crear, who served almost 33 years of active duty and led soldiers worldwide, also noted the importance of being more than mediocre and having great persistence – “and then some.” He described the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as having gone beyond the call of duty, too, and said the civil rights leader had explained decades ago the importance of drafting a blueprint for life.
In fact, six months before King was assassinated, Crear said King told a group of students in Philadelphia that a building is not well erected without a solid pattern or guide.
A lifetime of values
Crear, embracing a belief that certain attributes never go out of style regardless of age or era, quoted and paraphrased King:
- Believe in your “dignity, worth, character and somebodiness.” In other words, “Don’t allow anybody to make you feel that you’re nobody. Always feel that you count. Always feel that you have worth and always feel that your life has ultimate significance. Your character counts.”
- Develop a basic principle to achieve excellence. “When you discover what that will be in your life set out to do it as if God Almighty called you at this particular moment. Set out to do such a good job that the living, the dead or the unborn couldn’t do it better.”
- Find your purpose: “If you can’t be a pine at the top of the hill, be a shrub in the valley. Be the best little shrub on the side of the hill. Be a bush if you can’t be a tree. If you can’t be a highway, just be a trail. If you can’t be a sun, be a star. For it isn’t by size that you win or fail. Be the best of whatever you are.”
In delivering the above advice, Crear told graduates to solidify their foundation. Also, he admonished them to cherish the blueprint they create because “it will influence what you do for the rest of your life.”
He also told them that once they graduate they should focus on making an impact in the world.
“Lead from where you sit. You will have all the trappings of success. You will have positions. You will have titles. And don’t forget where you came from. Be a mentor. Be a role model for others. There’s an old saying: ‘It’s easier for you to make 10 other people’s dreams come true than it is to realize just one of your own. Do that and make your parents proud of you.’ ”
With degrees in hand, two students sighed relief and reflected on the milestone and odyssey.
Katia Lele of Cameroon in Central Africa earned her bachelor’s degree in civil engineering in the College of Science, Engineering and Technology. She said graduation represents “closure” for her.
“All my sweat, all my sleepless nights, all my fears, all my frustrations. It feels so amazing. She chose Jackson State by chance because “one of my uncles used to be a coach here in track in field. I got here through the ESL (English as a Second Language) Institute,” she said.
Lele now plans to attend graduate school. She’s been accepted to the University of Washington and Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana.
As for her future, she’s unsure because “the farther I go my goals keep getting higher and higher and bigger and bigger. I may tell you today, but tomorrow it might be different.” She thanked her instructors, advisers and JSU Global.
William H. Kelly III received his degree in mass communication in the College of Liberal Arts’ Department of Journalism and Media Studies. The native of Houston, Texas, recalls his five-year journey to get to this milestone.
“There were so many times when I didn’t think I was going to make it. I credit my family, mentors in the communications department, Student Publications, other supporters and friends who were there to pat me on my back and encouraged me to keep going,” he said.
Before ending his comments, Crear urged the new graduates to become active citizens. He pleaded for them to exercise their right to vote, and he invoked the names of those living and dead to drive home his point: former U.S. Justice Thurgood Marshall, former U.N. Ambassador Andrew Young and “the courageous men and women whose names are not always recorded in history.” History, he said, shows they made significant contributions toward equality.
“For the rights we take for granted, people have given their lives,” Crear said. “Freedom is not free.” He said activists and martyrs such as Medgar Evers, Fannie Lou Hammer and King “walked so that Obama could run and so that you can fly and spread your wings.”