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Students celebrate after receiving their degrees.
Dr. Annika Barnett, NCCU alumna and Johns Hopkins Hospital resident, addresses the crowd.
Dr. Bernice Johnson and Chancellor Saunders-White after the reading of the congressional proclamation from U.S. Rep. and NCCU alumnus G. K. Butterfield.
“Success Lies Beyond Fear” NCCU Commencement Speaker Tells Graduates
Published: Saturday, December 14, 2013

The youngest commencement speaker in North Carolina Central University’s history told some 600 new graduates that they must push aside normal fears of failure in order to successfully pursue far-reaching goals.

“Your desire to succeed must surpass your fear,” Dr. Annika Barnett told graduates during NCCU’s 122nd commencement ceremonies, which took place Dec. 14, in the McDougald–McLendon Gymnasium.

Barnett, 26, received her bachelor’s degree in biology with a minor in chemistry from NCCU in 2009 before attending Harvard University Medical School. She is the first NCCU alumna to graduate from Harvard Medical School, where she earned the Dr. Bemy Jelin Prize for academic excellence.

“There are three things that you should never fear: fear of failure, fear of change and fear of the unknown,” said Barnett. “If you learn to face these head on, it will lead to success that you could never imagine.”

In order to complete her medical degree, Barnett said she had to overcome each of these fears.

“No one wants to fall flat on his or her face in front of everyone,” said Barnett. “In this age of social media, it is very easy for everyone to see when you succeed and when you fail.”

She said she viewed her application to Harvard as “just one more application to put out there” as she neared the end of her studies at NCCU.

Barnett encouraged the class of 2013 to push past the isolation of the unknown.

“When you do something that no one else has done before you, it is lonely,” said Barnett.  “It is uncomfortable being the different one.  But you have to go out of your comfort zone to grow.”

Barnett graduated from the prestigious medical school in May 2013 and earned a spot in the highly competitive Johns Hopkins Hospital pediatrics and anesthesiology residency program. There are only four pediatrics and anesthesiology residency program in the country and a total of just eight slots.

“Something in me knew that if I didn’t at least go and try, I would regret it. I would always wonder ‘what if,’” said Barnett. “Don’t live your life in regret. Don’t let fear of failure keep you from going for what may seem like a long shot.”

Barnett urged the graduates not to view her story as an anomaly.

“You all have the capability and gifts to achieve your dreams. The thing holding you back is fear,” said Barnett in closing. “I pray my story of fearlessness liberates you today.  I challenge you to embrace your fears.  If your dream makes you nervous, then you are on the right track.”

Before the conferring of degrees, NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White presented a proclamation from U.S. Rep. and NCCU alumnus G.K. Butterfield to Dr. Bernice Johnson, interim provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs. Johnson will retire from NCCU on Dec. 31, after 34 years of service. “For more than three decades, Dr. Johnson has positively impacted the lives NCCU students,” said Saunders-White. “Her service to NCCU is beyond compare.”

Saunders-White hosted the traditional reception for graduates and their families on Friday, Dec. 13. Separate receptions by campus colleges and departments took place after the Commencement ceremony.

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