Guest Speaker Notes Importance of “Telling Your Story” to Graduates
More than 540 undergraduate students at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) received bachelor’s degrees on Friday morning, May 6, in spirited ceremonies at McDougald-McLendon Arena.
Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye hailed the graduates as a “distinct class,” noting that they “matriculated and graduated at a time like no other – when a global pandemic interrupted and uprooted our lives.” He praised the students for their “responsible and creatively disciplined” perseverance as they dealt with hybrid classes and a host of activities held in an online environment.
The commencement exercises, initially planned for outdoors at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, were moved to the arena because of the prediction for inclement weather.
A highlight of the ceremony was the awarding of honorary degrees to the Royal Ice Cream Parlor Seven or “Royal Seven,” the activists who took part in an early and under-appreciated civil rights protest in Durham. On June 23, 1957, a young minister, Douglas Moore, and six teenagers challenged segregation at Royal Ice Cream, a white-owned business in Durham’s Black community. Their sit-in garnered little attention beyond the local press, but it anticipated the higher-profile protests that followed, most notably the sit-in that began in 1960 at a segregated Woolworth lunch counter in Greensboro.
Accompanying Moore, a 1949 graduate of what was then called North Carolina College at Durham, were Mary Clyburn Hooks; Virginia Williams; the late Claude Glenn; the late Melvin Willis; the late Vivian Jones; and the late Jesse Gray. They were arrested and later fined. Represented by attorneys William Marsh Jr., BS, LLB ‘53, and Floyd McKissick, L‘51, the group appealed, but lost in the N.C. Superior Court and the N.C. Supreme Court.
Hooks and Williams, the two surviving members of the group, were honored in person with presentation of the Doctor of Humane Letters degree. The degrees were presented posthumously to the other participants, most of whom were represented by members of their families.
Delivering the commencement address was Agnes Moss, a 1996 NCCU graduate who is the founder of the National Black Movie Association and creator of National Black Movie Day. It is an organization committed to opening the film industry to under-represented groups, and specifically to provide opportunities for students and alumni of Historically Black Colleges and Universities.
“I’m looking at many stories,” Moss told the graduates. “Life is about living fully and telling your story authentically. Tell your story – your story will help you find you.”
The story, however, “is a process,” she said. “Be patient – the value of your story lies in your journey.”
Moss said she aspired to be a filmmaker when she was young, but encountered rejection after rejection and pursued other career paths. “I gave up,” she said. “But this story has a happy ending.” She quit a successful career in public relations to found the National Black Movie Association in 2019. “My purpose,” she said, “has evolved to offer opportunity for the next generation of storytellers.”
Timothy Mulrooney, associate professor in the NCCU Department of Environment, Earth and Geospatial Sciences, was presented with the University of North Carolina Board of Governors Award for Excellence in Teaching. His extensive work in open-source programming and data-mining techniques to assess geographic information systems and metadata integrity along with his commitment to training students in the geographic sciences were noted.
Additionally, three NCCU professors—Jessica Ganao, Ph.D., Hilary N. Huskey and Charity Watkins, Ph.D.—where recognized as recipients of the 2022 NCCU Award for Excellence in Teaching.
A posthumous Bachelor of Science degree in behavioral and social sciences was presented to the brother and parents of Courtland Parker, a student who passed away in December 2021.
NCCU will award graduate and law degrees in a separate ceremony on Saturday, May 7, 2022. Those exercises will also be held indoors at McDougald-McLendon Arena.