Persistence and Pivoting advised by NCCU Commencement Speaker

Posted December 09, 2023, 4:27PM
Fall 2023 graduate Felicia Lindsay stands to be recognized by NCCU Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye

From the processional entrance to the benediction, the 142nd commencement exercises at North Carolina Central University (NCCU) were filled with enthusiasm, cheers, advice, anecdotes and even an astronaut.

Degrees were conferred upon 423 undergraduates and 210 graduate and professional students during the two Dec. 9 programs held on campus in McDougald-McLendon Arena.

Close to 3,000 parents, relatives and friends watched or cheered during the undergraduate ceremony as students in maroon robes and mortarboards received their diplomas, shook hands and posed for photos with Chancellor Johnson O. Akinleye.

In addition to meeting their degree requirement, undergraduates also engaged in a collective 42,783 hours of community service, with an estimated economic impact of $1.36 million.

Jessela Gaymon, senior class president, amused the graduates by recounting what it was like when they were incoming freshmen. “What’s a 10:40 break?” she recalled. “You are telling me I have to dress up for ‘Fried Chicken Wednesday’?”

Among the highlights was the commencement address by Leland Melvin, a former wide receiver for the Detroit Lions and a NASA astronaut who flew two missions to the international space station.

Melvin offered an anecdote about persistence. During a high school football game, he dropped a pass near the end zone.

“The coach grabbed me by the face mask and said, ‘I believe in you,’” Melvin said. “’We are going to run the same play.’”

A scout from the University of Richmond was there. He walked out of the arena when Melvin dropped the football. The scout returned, however, when he heard the audience cheer, and saw Melvin dancing in the end zone. On the second try, Melvin caught the football and scored a touchdown, winning the game. The scout later offered Melvin a scholarship to the University of Richmond.

“I failed once but I did not give up,” Melvin said.

Melvin also offered an anecdote about the ability to pivot. He asked if anyone knew about Ed Dwight, a Black Air Force pilot who was chosen in 1961 by President Kennedy to be an astronaut. After Kennedy was killed, however, Dwight was not chosen.

“Dwight got a Master of Fine Arts in art and is one of the world’s preeminent sculptors,” Melvin said. “He pivoted, because people didn’t want him to rise into the heavens. He set the legacy and tone for the rest of us.”

Resilience was a theme also noted by Chancellor Akinleye who, during the undergraduate ceremony recognized Felicia Lindsay. Lindsay had started at NCCU in 1983 but left to raise a son and begin a career in retail. A few years ago, she returned to college, first to earn an associate degree at Durham Technical Community College and then to return to NCCU where 40 years after first setting foot on campus – and in spite of an autoimmune disease and knee replacement surgery – she earned her bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies.

During the graduate and professional ceremony, Chancellor Akinleye recognized Ashley Pointe, a high school teacher who decided to leave her profession to attend NCCU School of Law when one of her students got in legal trouble. Despite being older than traditional students and having a husband and two young children, she persevered and earned a legal degree.

Among the NCCU trailblazers is Lezly Collins, making history as the first graduate with a Bachelor of Science in clinical research sciences. The program, which started in fall 2020, trains graduates to manage and monitor clinical trials.

Perhaps the most cheers came toward the end of commencement when Chancellor Akinleye instructed the undergraduates to move the tassels on their mortarboards from the right to the left, and the graduate and professional class to participate in the hooding portion of the ceremony, signifying their success in completing their academic program.

Almost as loud was when Tomeika Bowden, present of the NCCU Alumni Association said, “Welcome to alumni status.”

Rev. Dr. Robert James of Union Baptist Church gave the benediction.

“When you feel you might be defeated, think upon this day and know that you have already accomplished so much.”

For a replay of NCCU’s 142nd Commencement Exercises, visit here.

To view and download photos from the celebration, visit here.

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