More than 700 incoming freshmen and transfer students converged onto the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center on Sunday as part of their official welcoming to Jackson State University. They also remembered an incoming football player whose life was cut short tragically.
Inside, they were greeted by faculty and administrators donning regalia as well as parents, guardians, JSU staffers and other guests. Meanwhile, the student leadership acknowledged the loss of football recruit Leroy Hawkins, 17, who died in early June in Dallas. He was a Top 300 offensive lineman and, reportedly, was 34thin Texas.
As the keynote speaker, JSU President William B. Bynum Jr. delivered a resounding address in which he urged the young, ambitious newcomers to speak into existence those things that they desire, so they can become successful.
“You are exactly where you need to be at this particular time in life,” said Bynum, congratulating the new freshmen and transfer students for taking another step toward their academic and professional goals.
JSU’s Vice President and Chief of Staff Dr. Debra Mays-Jackson urged students to remain focused on why they’re at the urban institution.
“You’re here to get an education, finish your degree and graduate, she said. “Don’t be a follower; be a leader. Don’t make popular decisions; make prosperous decisions.”
Meanwhile, during his keynote address, Bynum discussed the importance of faith, family and future and how they factor into life. Because of his strong faith, he made it crystal clear to the audience that he’s “God-loving, God-fearing, blessed and highly favored” as the 11th president of JSU.
His discussed his early years of growing up in the projects of Rocky Mount, North Carolina. There, he was raised by his mother in a single-parent household with eight children – five girls and three boys – after his parents separated when he was in kindergarten. Despite the hardships, he shared how he was still blessed to become a two-time university president. That remark was followed by a thunderous applause.
Today, Bynum continues his public shouts of joy as he trumpets the support he had received from his “praying grandmother and Holy Ghost-filled, fire-baptized mother.” He said each of them played a fundamental role in his success. And, as the newcomers prepare to start a new chapter of their lives at JSU, Bynum strongly urged them to pay homage to their own parents and other family members who helped them make it this far.
Beyond faith and family, he reminded them of what the future holds.
“Technology is changing very fast,” he said. He told the students that their success is contingent on an education that goes beyond a high school diploma and associate’s degree. “Because of the scarcity of jobs, you need a higher education to compete.” He noted that those with a college degree earn on average about $1 million in their lifetime versus those without one. As well, he said research shows these graduates are more likely to vote and participate in other activities that benefit their lives and careers.
Because of the importance of education, he admonished the career-seekers to choose their friends carefully over the next few weeks. “Some people didn’t come here to go to college; some came to prolong high school; some people came just to get away from situations,” he warned. “High school is about being around cool kids; college is about being around smart kids. You got to choose carefully who you hang around.”
Bynum urged students to take a litmus test to determine who should be their friends.
If friends say “you’re not smart enough” for a particular career or try to discourage you from attending chapel service, that’s not a friend, Bynum said. “You need people who will breathe life into you.” Bynum said it worked for him.
“Before I finished graduate school, my friends had already started calling me Dr. Bynum. And, when I told them I wanted to become a university president they started calling me Mr. President.”
Later, Bynum asked parents and guardians to stand and identify which category they fall under: Type 1 or Type 2 Parents.
Type 1 Parents, he said, are those who celebrate becoming empty-nesters . They joyously leave their offspring behind on campus while contemplating how they can rearrange or redecorate the now-empty bedroom.
Meanwhile, Type 2 Parents, he said, linger on campus to make sure their adult child has all the necessary items to start the semester. Even after these parents have been forced off campus by security and driving on the freeway to their destination, they call their “baby” on the cell phone at least one more time to be sure everything is OK.
Interestingly, Bynum observed that the larger of the two groups were Type 1 Parents.
“The bottom line is that you’re at a great university,” he told the audience. “We will work as a team and be collegial toward one another.”