Master’s and Juris Doctors Degrees Earned by 450 Students at NCCU’s Graduate and Professional Ceremony

Posted May 07, 2022, 3:03PM

Former Mayor of Atlanta Keisha Lance Bottoms Inspires Graduates to Soar 

To the cheers of their families and friends, some 450 graduate and law students at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) received master’s and Juris Doctor degrees on Saturday morning, May 7, 2022, during the 139th Commencement exercises at McDougald-McLendon Arena. 

“This remarkable attainment of earning your diploma took increased focus, endurance and dedication,” Johnson O. Akinleye, Ph.D., NCCU chancellor, told the graduates. “COVID-19 has transformed nearly every aspect of our society, but through it all—hybrid classes, a first-ever virtual Homecoming and a host of interactions and activities that were held in an online environment—you remained compliant, responsible and became creatively disciplined with our ‘new normal.’”

Delivering the commencement address was Keisha Lance Bottoms, J.D., mayor of Atlanta from 2018 until January of this year, who told the graduates, “You leave this campus with your cup running over with all you need to succeed.”

Lance Bottoms, who drew national attention as mayor for her efforts to promote diversity, inclusion, affordable housing and a commitment to transparency, spoke movingly of the challenges she faced growing up in Atlanta. Her father was Major Lance, a renowned and prosperous R&B musician. “But at age 8,” she said, “I learned that people make bad mistakes.” 

With the love and support of her family, though, Lance Bottoms excelled as a student. Relying, she said, on “Pell grants, work-study and student loans,” she graduated magna cum laude from Florida A&M University and went on to earn a law degree at Georgia State University. 

Still, she said, “I struggled with impostor syndrome. There was a constant nagging voice asking if I was worthy. Do I belong here?” It took years, she said, but with the love and support of her family, teachers and mentors, she came to realize, “I was more than good enough.”

Urging the graduates to avoid succumbing to self-doubt, she said, “You are equipped and empowered to do extraordinary things. You may face a major loss. What matters is not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up.” 

During the ceremony, Akinleye took a moment to praise the achievements of one of the graduates, Christie Smith of Durham, who at age 20 was diagnosed with retinitis pigmentosa, a degenerative eye disease that has left her legally blind. 

“She learned to embrace her unique journey with visual impairment, which helped her become aware of the overwhelming need for service professionals in the field,” Akinleye said.

After earning bachelor’s degrees in psychology from University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and middle grades education from NCCU, Smith entered a master’s program, specializing in teaching and assistive technology training. The program at NCCU’s School of Education, is the only one of its kind in North Carolina and the only one at any historically Black college or university.

“She underwent four major eye surgeries, yet maintained a 4.0 grade point average,” Akinleye said. “Today, she is the first graduate of the visual impairment master’s program with a concentration in assistive technology for individuals with visual impairments. She is interviewing for teaching positions where she can utilize her expertise. Christie, we congratulate you and know that only success lies ahead for you.”

A link to the ceremony is available here: 

Photos from the ceremony and a class infographic can be viewed here.


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