Approximately 974 graduates of North Carolina Central University (NCCU) received their degrees on May 8, 2021, during the university’s 137th Commencement Exercises.
The spring graduates were joined by members of the winter and spring classes of 2020, who had to forego commencement ceremonies earlier because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye addressed the graduates gathered at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, offering praise for their persistence despite the difficulties of the last year.
“Not only have you reached a milestone in obtaining your undergraduate degree, but you did it during a global pandemic,” Akinleye said.
“And while we know the work has just begun in making America a better and more equitable country, as NCCU graduates you will supply the world with innovation, ideas and solutions that will further improve our society for the next generation.”
NCCU alumna Jasmine Crowe, ’05, offered remarks at the 8 a.m. undergraduate service, where 608 students received their degrees.
Crowe, an award-winning social entrepreneur and nonprofit business leader, encouraged them to have confidence in their abilities and embrace potential failures as a means of uncovering their true talents.
“Even if you fail, you will have learned some lessons; and storms pass,” said Crowe, who founded the nonprofit Goodr in 2017 after developing several different short-lived business ventures.
Goodr has redirected more than 2 million pounds of leftover food from restaurants and other businesses to feed people in need.
“If you can hold it in your head, you can hold it in your hands,” she said. “You have everything you need to succeed.”
Alumnus James H. Johnson Jr., Ph.D., ’75, William R. Kenan Jr. Distinguished Professor of Strategy and Entrepreneurship and director of the Urban Investment Strategies Center at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Kenan-Flager Business School, addressed the 285 graduate students and 81 juris doctor recipients at the noon ceremony.
Johnson offered a list of “must-haves” needed for successful navigation of today’s workplace, including a sense internal control; diverse professional networks; the willingness to hear contrarian opinions; and a reputation for expertise in their chosen field.
“Developing and maintaining diverse networks is hard work,” he said. “It requires cultural stretch, a willingness to put yourself in places or situations where you might not feel comfortable.”
The benefit is a deep vein of people who can help in difficult situations. This may be especially important for individuals from under-represented minority groups and women, who may find themselves feeling isolated, Johnson said.
“In addition to providing you with access to information and opportunities that otherwise might be inaccessible, diverse networks help you manage experiences of isolation and loneliness,” Johnson said.
During the undergraduate ceremony, Akinleye gave special recognition to Richlands, N.C. native, Yedaliz Llanos, who began her studies at NCCU as a transfer student from Coastal Carolina Community College. Llanos has been a reliable volunteer with NCCU’s COVID-19 Vaccine Clinic, conducted local health screenings and made tutorial videos for incoming nursing students. She will begin her career as a fulltime nurse at Duke Raleigh Hospital’s neuro-stepdown unit for recovering patients.
Akinleye also recognized the first graduate of NCCU School of Education’s Higher Education Mariana McKoy during the graduate and professional ceremony. A first generation student, McKoy maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout her program while facing hardship, including a gun violence incident affecting her family. In the fall, she will pursue a doctoral degree in higher administration at the University of Southern Mississippi. She aspires to work as a dean of students in the higher education field.
Jazz Studies Associate Professor Lenora Helm Hammonds also was recognized with the prestigious University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. She is among 17 honorees from across the state chosen for the 2021 award, which honors outstanding faculty members within the University of North Carolina System.
Among the 608 bachelor’s degrees awarded, 320 were Bachelor of Science degrees; 111, Bachelor of Arts; 91, Bachelor of Business Administration; 47, Bachelor of Science in Nursing; 34, Bachelor of Social Work; and five, Bachelor of Music.
Students receiving master’s degrees included 69 who earned the Master of Science degree; 56, Master of Social Work; 35, Master of Library Science; 30, Master of Information Science; 19, Master of Public Administration; 13, Master of School Administration; and two, Master of Music.