Pride was in the air on Dec. 14, 2019, as nearly 500 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree candidates, and hundreds of their supporters, braved a cold, rainy journey to Hill Field House for the Seventh Fall Commencement Exercises of Morgan State University. The third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, was the keynote speaker for the event, and communications technology expert Jesse E. Russell, a pioneer in the development of the cellphone’s wireless technology, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science. The event marked a number of significant institutional milestones for the then 152-year-old Historically Black Institution as well as notable personal milestones for many of this season’s graduates. The University conferred its 800th doctoral degree during the ceremony, a number that included a record 79 doctorates awarded in calendar year 2019.
Congressman Clyburn exhorted the soon-to-be graduates to persevere in their endeavors and be thankful for those who have supported their dreams.
“You will not always get things right the first time you attempt it. Remember to never, ever give up,” Clyburn said. “…In order to be successful in life, you must never give up, and don’t hesitate to get outside of your comfort zone,” he continued, citing proof from African-American history, including his own political career, in which he ran three times for Congress before succeeding in 1992.
In his acceptance speech for his honorary degree, Russell continued the theme of perseverance, recalling the challenge of working at Bell Laboratories as an engineering graduate of historically Black Tennessee State University in the 1980s, “when it was unpopular for African Americans to be at that institution….”
“As I stand before you and reflect on a meeting at Bell Labs with an all-white group in 1984, where the young man from Tennessee State University had the self-confidence necessary to challenge the teaching of the Bell System of putting phones in places and rose up and asked the question, ‘Why not focus on putting phones on people?’…which gave rise to digital cellular technology and ultimately a digital cellular communications industry,” Russell said.
Russell called on the degree candidates to pursue excellence, study continuously and value courage and character.
Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Lesia Crumpton-Young announced the four undergraduate candidates who shared the title of class valedictorian, and Senior Class President Imani Dews recounted lessons she and her classmates had learned during their time at Morgan, during her Salute to the Graduates.
After the coronavirus pandemic forced a difficult decision by Morgan’s administration to postpone the in-person Spring Commencement Exercises this year, the University’s School of Global Journalism and Communication stepped into the breach to produce a virtual event to celebrate MSU’s Class of 2020.
Morgan State University’s Spring 2020 Virtual Commencement, a video production, was aired on Morgan.edu and on YouTube, on May 16 at 10 a.m., the date and time that had been slated for the original, in-person event. The 46-minute presentation, which was universally well-received, recapped the memorable experiences of the graduating class beginning in 2016, the first year of its undergraduate cohort—from the designation of Morgan’s campus as a National Treasure, to the University’s Sesquicentennial Celebration, to Vice President Joe Biden’s Commencement address and Cardi B’s Homecoming performance in 2017, and more.
After MSU Board of Regents Chair Kweisi Mfume offered congratulations and encouragement to the 45 doctoral, 217 master’s and 763 baccalaureate candidates, MSU Provost and Senior Vice President for Academic Affairs Lesia Crumpton-Young confirmed their degrees, and MSU President David K. Wilson conferred them en masse.
President Wilson urged the graduates to look beyond the current pandemic reality to a brighter future.
“…Without exception, the sons and daughters of Morgan State University, our National Treasure, have always found the tenacity, they’ve always found the courage, to persevere. And I know that you will, too,” Dr. Wilson said.
He then made a surprise announcement to the graduates that digital versions of their diplomas were being emailed to them at that moment.
Other highlights of the virtual ceremony included a stirring performance of “We Are the World” by the technologically united MSU Choir, and the induction of the new graduates into the MSU Alumni Association by the association’s president, Phyllis C. Davis of Morgan’s Class of 1982.
“I set before you the rainbow of excellence, worthy of your total commitment, to lead the world,” said the Rev. Dr. Bernard Keels, dean of the MSU Memorial Chapel, in the benediction. “Choose this day the lessons you have learned, for you are that difference that will set you apart from Commencement, in order that you will joyously run the race of commendation. The best is yet to come.”