(JACKSON, Miss.) – Actor and writer Hill Harper addressed Jackson State University students May 4 during the university’s undergraduate commencement ceremony at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, where he urged graduates to always take risks and never fear failure.
”If you remember one thing I say today, I want you to wrap your mind around this concept, this idea, that the defeated are only those who never fail,” Harper said.
During his address, Harper recalled his days at Harvard Law School when he first met fellow classmate Barack Obama. Harper said the future president entered graduate school in his late 20s because he knew he needed more education to reach his goals.
“He had realized that the size and thickness of his educational foundation was not thick enough to support his goals and dreams,” Harper said, advising graduates to follow Obama’s example of having the courage to pursue their passions.
An award-winning actor, Harper recently joined the cast of the hit drama, Covert Affairs. He earned two NAACP Image awards for his work on the popular TV series, CSI: New York. He has acted in several television series and movies, including the movie, For Colored Girls, and received critical acclaim for his performance in the independent film The Visit.
Dr. Roosevelt Calbert received an honorary doctorate during Saturday’s ceremony. An alumnus of Jackson State University, Calbert has had a distinguished teaching and research career, including service as the Director for the National Science Foundation, Division of the Human Resource Development, responsible for broadening the participation of underrepresented groups in science and engineering.
The spring 2013 class includes 688 undergraduates and 304 graduate students. IHL Commissioner Dr. Hank Bounds spoke at the graduate exercises May 3 on the university’s main campus. During his address, Bounds urged JSU students to use the knowledge they acquired while pursuing their graduate degrees to make a difference in the lives of others. Bounds said the degrees bring an obligation to teach, help, and lead others.
“You have a responsibility to help. We live in the poorest state in this country. We live in the most undereducated state in this country. I believe we all share a responsibility to change that statistic for Mississippi,” Bounds said.
Bounds oversees the state’s public four-year university system, which includes the State Institutions of Higher Learning (IHL), four research institutions and four regional institutions. Mississippi’s public universities enroll more than 80,000 students and award more than 15,000 degrees each year. Bounds, a lifelong educator, previously served four years as state superintendent of education.
Among the graduating class is Jackson native Timothy Kendricks, a criminal justice major who was diagnosed with cancer at the age of 18.
“I feel like this is the best HBCU I could have chosen. Jackson State has been like a new beginning for me,” said the 25-year-old Kendricks, who has been in remission for more than five years.
The youngest of five siblings, Kendricks is the first person in his family to receive a college degree. He plans to pursue a master’s degree in rehabilitation counseling and work with juveniles. Kendricks is currently writing a book about his life because he believes his story can serve as an example that no obstacle is too difficult to overcome.
Also part of the class is Anas Alfarra, a Middle Eastern student who fled the war-torn Gaza Strip to study at JSU. Alfarra finished the JSU engineering program with a 3.7 GPA.“I never would have thought I would experience this much care, love and respect from the people here. Jackson State has been another home for me,” Alfarra said.Alfarra was able to study at JSU through the Near East and South Asia Undergraduate Exchange Program, a part of the Global Undergraduate Exchange Program. Though the exchange program doesn’t allow students to pursue a degree at U.S. universities, Alfarra petitioned the State Department to change his visa status and grant him an exception. That wasn’t easy, but he had the support of JSU faculty and staff. They, along with faculty and staff at Millsaps College, where Alfarra had participated in activities, helped gather hundreds of signatures to submit to the State Department.
“I really want to give back to Jackson State because this place has offered me a future in which I never could have accomplished in my country or anywhere else,” he said.