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HBCU Advocate and Health Disparities Expert to Speak at Commencement Exercises

John Ruffin
Lezli Baskerville

The 123rd Commencement Exercises for North Carolina Central University are scheduled May 9 and 10, on campus, with speakers to include a National Institutes of Health expert in minority health disparities and a noted advocate for Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs).

One thousand and fifty three degrees will be awarded during NCCU’s spring commencement. 

Graduate and professional degrees will be given at 3 p.m., Friday, May 9, in the McDougald–McLendon Gym, while undergraduate Commencement takes place at 8 a.m., Saturday, May 10, in the O’Kelly–Riddick Stadium.

Speaking at the Saturday, May 10 undergraduate ceremony is Lezli Baskerville, Esq., president and CEO of the National Association for Equal Opportunity in Higher Education (NAFEO). She is the fifth and first female leader of NAFEO, which has represented the interests of HBCUs and predominantly black institutions across the U.S. since 1969. Baskerville has embarked on a program to establish a $1 billion sustainable endowment for students at HBCUs.

As a civil rights attorney, Baskerville served as counsel in Supreme Court cases involving educational equity and affirmative action. She was outside counsel in the University of California v. Bakke, a landmark decision to permit race as one of several factors in college admissions policies, an issue that has recently come back before the court, and Fullilove v. Klutznick, which held that Congress could institute preferences in federal spending to remedy past discrimination.

Speaking to professional and graduate degree recipients on Friday, May 9, is John Ruffin, Ph.D., retired director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities for the National Institutes of Health (NIH). Ruffin served on the NCCU faculty from 1977 to 1986 as a professor and then chair of the Department of Biology.  He later served as dean of the College of Arts and Sciences and special assistant to the chancellor for research until 1990, when he was named associate director for minority programs for the National Institutes of Health.

His work and advocacy at the NIH were instrumental in the passage of the federal Health Revitalization Act of 1993 and the creation of the National Center on Minority Health and Health Disparities – now known as the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities (NIMHD). NCCU is recognized by NIMHD as a Center of Excellence in Minority Health.

NCCU will present honorary degrees to Ruffin on Friday, as well as to pianist, vocalist, composer, arranger and producer Leon Pendarvis on Saturday. 

Pendarvis, who attended NCCU from 1962-1966, is the first African-American to serve as musical director of “Saturday Night Live” and the longest-tenured musician in the history of show. He has contributed to more than 80 albums, working with legends including Aretha Franklin, James Brown, Roberta Flack, Diana Ross, Luther Vandross and Eric Clapton. Last year he played at the White House for the Library of Congress Gershwin Prize for Popular Song celebration hosted by President Barack Obama and Michelle Obama.

Others receiving awards include School of Law graduates Cindy Arevalo, Latoya Blackwell and Sonye Randolph who will be given Graduate Student Impact Awards at Friday’s ceremony for their outstanding service work through the school’s Law Clinics. Additionally, Ariel L. Price and Brian C. Hurley in the School of Education will receive Graduate Student Impact Awards after establishing the Global Medical Brigade.

Nineteen undergraduate students will receive Student Service Impact Awards on Saturday. These awards recognize 240 service hours of community service work —twice the number of service hours required for all NCCU graduating seniors—while maintaining at least a 2.5 GPA.

Award recipients are:

Deborah Brown, Jamaal Brown, Laquesha Cannon, Brandon Douglas, Jautam Davis, Juteria Eaves, Migela Evans, Loreal Felder, Chelsea Fulmore, Markita Henderson, Jasmine Keith, Zakiya Job, Markita Johnson, Tymesha Lamison, Tara Lightbourne-Pratt, Charles Okechukwu, Bobby Richardson, Johnesha Truesdale and Michael Washington.

Also on Saturday, NCCU History Department Chair Jim Harper, Ph.D., will receive the 2014 UNC Board of Governors Awards for Excellence in Teaching. NCCU’s History Department has produced more students who have earned the Ph.D. in history than any other HBCU. The department also recently announced the formation of the Hip-Hop Institute with Patrick Douthit, also known as 9th Wonder, an interdisciplinary study program with the department of history, music department and the school of education. Harper, who earned his bachelor’s and master’s degrees from NCCU and a Ph.D. from Howard University, will receive a commemorative bronze medallion and a $12,500 cash prize.

Awards for teaching excellence will be presented to Antonio T. Baines, Ph.D., associate professor in the department of biology and the cancer research program in the Julius L. Chambers Biomedical/Biotechnology Research Institute; Tricia Leaf-Prince, Ph.D., visiting assistant professor in the department of language and literature and Janice Dargan, Ph.D., adjunct assistant professor in the department of history and department of sociology.

Preliminary figures from the NCCU Registrar’s Office state that the university will award 682 baccalaureate degrees at the ceremony on Saturday, with 241 master’s degrees and 130 law degrees conferred. Combined with the 600 degrees awarded in December 2013, the total for 2013-14 academic year is 1,653. 

Media interested in covering the commencement ceremony should contact the Office of Public Relations at 919-530-6295 or Renee.Elder@nccu.edu  to be added to the media list. For more information on Commencement, please visit http://web.nccu.edu/commencement/.


Published: Monday, April 28, 2014
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