About 550 JSU fall graduates participated in a virtual ceremony from their homes Friday while administrators, deans and other program participants gathered inside the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center (AAC) to bestow degrees to the 2020 honorees in real time.
Due to COVID-19, and out of an abundance of caution, the university opted against a traditional in-person ceremony. Instead, students took part in their graduation from their own homes or other designated environments.
Even for those few program participants who gathered inside the AAC, social distancing and masks were mandatory. These measures were in keeping with safety precautions recommended by the CDC, the Mississippi State Department of Health and the Mississippi Institutions for Higher Learning.
JSU President Thomas K. Hudson acknowledged the struggles resulting from the pandemic, yet he credited the campus community for laboring extra hard to make graduation a memorable occasion.
“It’s been a challenge, but it just couldn’t be done without the great faculty and staff, the people of JSU,” Hudson said. He gave a special salute to campus television station JSUTV, the Department of Communications, interim provost Dr. Alisa Mosley, Academic Affairs and Student Affairs.
While the celebration didn’t include a keynote speaker, remarks were delivered by LaCori Brent, the graduating senior class president who’s a biology major from Little Rock, Arkansas.
In her address, Brent commended her peers for remaining resilient during an unprecedented semester interrupted by the novel coronavirus.
She reminded her classmates that “these are troubling times, but we shall forever prevail. We have been tried but not denied. As we prepare for the next chapter of our lives, know that we have created an unmatched legacy that really demonstrates that we can succeed – not always because of but in spite of.”
Even though she said JSU prepared her to face and overcome obstacles, she regularly recites Philippians 4:13 that her grandmother taught her: “I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me.”
Still, however, she boasted about the support from JSU and shared words of gratitude about her new alma mater. “Because of the classes at Jackson State, we’re not only academically enhanced but culturally enhanced as well.”
Brent praised JSU’s scholars “who look just like me and whose wisdom and guidance are just like those of my aunts and uncles; grandfathers and grandmothers; and other giants from my community on whose shoulders I stand on today.”
She said her HBCU experience was extremely valuable because JSU didn’t shirk from “telling us the hard truths and for reminding us that no matter the color of our skin or the texture of our hair, we should never let anyone make us think, believe or feel that we are inferior or that we don’t belong.”
Reflecting more on 2020, she said her classmates witnessed some dark hours. So, she told them to “remember that it is only in our darkest hours that we may discover the strength of the bright light within ourselves that can never be dimmed.”
Despite the unprecedented challenges, she said, “Tough times don’t last, but tough people do.” That became abundantly clear when students and professors were forced to resort to online learning and lectures.
Even with that, Brent said, “Nothing can dare deny the resilience of our spirits as we soar like eagles dedicated and determined to take our rightful place among other greats who proudly wear the badge of honor and who we call alumni.”
Her remarks were echoed by Dr. Earlexia Norwood, president of the Jackson State University National Alumni Association.
“You have earned a degree in the midst of a pandemic. But you have earned a degree that puts you in the ranks of great alums and those who have done outstanding deeds. With this degree, you can become and do whatever your mind and heart’s intent is to do,” she said.
Meanwhile, in his final remarks, Hudson challenged the new alums to remember JSU “with your time, talent and your financial resources. Visit often, for this will always be your home.”
Furthermore, he urged them to continue striving for the best.
“Jackson State University is an outstanding place to have earned your degree. So, take full advantage of it. You have made your parents, family, friends – as well as your university – extremely proud of your accomplishments,” he said.
Hudson added, “I hope you are proud as well with the character you have built within yourself. There is no end to education. Your whole life is a continual learning process. I charge you to never give up. Education is the most potent tool you can use to revolutionize the world.”