I was Vice President for Student Affairs at Albany State University from 2000 to 2004. Our president, Dr. Portia Holmes Shields, always did shout outs at commencement- a way to tell the stories of our graduates to personalize the event.
When I became president at Philander Smith in 2004, I continued the tradition with my first graduation in 2005. 10 years later I am still doing the same. Below is my script for the class of 2015 at Dillard. This represents a fraction of their accomplishments and stories. Worth the read!
BEST ALL AROUND
· This award dates back to the 1950s when it was called the Ernest W. Armstrong award. Beginning last year, it is called the William Sutton prize, named for Dr. William Sutton who graduated from Dillard University in 1953, who as a student was class president for 3 years, football captain and science major, who later taught on the faculty for 20 years and served as president of Mississippi Valley State University for 10 years. The medallion is sponsored by Mr. William Sizeler and the Sizeler Thompson Brown architectural firm. Each recipient received a $1,000 cash prize.
· Let me introduce our recipients.
o Daniel Gibson. Track and cross country teams. Officer in the political science club and African World Network Organization. Polemarch of Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, Inc. Member of the honors program. Dean’s list. Admitted to four law schools, and will be attending the University of Tulsa.
o Roneisha Joyner. Resident Assistant. Senior class officer. Officer for several student groups. SOAR leader. Student ambassador. Cheerleader. Dean’s list. Martin Luther King Week of Peace Community Service Award winner in 2014. 3.9 GPA. Will be attending the University of Southern California in Los Angeles, California to attend the number one school in the country for their Doctorate of Physical Therapy Program on a $10,000/year scholarship.
o Keylantra Taylor. Basketball athlete. Volleyball athlete. Track and field athlete. Daktronics NAIA Scholar Athlete for 2015. People’s choice female athlete of the year. Officer for the National Society of Black Engineers and Scientific Honor Society. First place winner in the NORC Research competition and the LAMP Undergraduate research competition. Will begin a 10 week internship with the Army research lab before graduate school this fall.
· 13-15 part 1: Taylor Webster. Her big brother Dorian Webster Jr. finished Dillard in 2013.
· 13-15 part 2: Lyndon Catalan. Mr. Dillard 2014-15, his big sister Lyneice graduated in 2013. Lyndon will be working at Ultra Clean Technologies-Engineering Company in Silicon Valley.
· Angelle Williams. Her sister, Kyla Dawson finished Dillard in 2005.
· Pharyn Alexis Thornton. The only child of Pia Thornton, Dillard University class of 1991.
· Ayanna G. Humphrey has a host of family members who have graduated from Dillard. Most recent her cousins, 2014 grads Damon Carraby and Kyrean Bowens; aunt Sharon Ross Magee in 1979; and finally, her great-grandmother Annie Dixon Ross, magna cum laude in 1952.
· Dexter Smith. 3rd person to graduate from Dillard, 2nd in nursing. Mother Dr. Charlene Smith class of 1978, and sister Dr. Annie Smith-Whittle class of 2003. Dexter will be at Our Lady of the Lake Hospital, Baton Rouge, LA in the Surgical Nurse Residency Program.
· Walsdorf Jenneford, III. His father and grandfather, all of them with the same name, attended Dillard, as well as a great uncle and 2 aunts that attended Dillard.
· Jazmene K. Stewart. Will be working with the Washington DC Department of Health as a Food Health Inspector.
· Shannon Albert. Will be working at Ochsner Hospital Westbank, Gretna, LA in the Mother/Baby Unit as a Staff RN
· Donielle Brown, Falicia Jones, and Jestin Major. Nursing graduates all offered employment in the telemetry departments at area hospitals.
· Chloe Harrell. Will be at University Hospital and Clinics, Lafayette, LA, in the Emergency Department as a nurse.
· Keshona Holmes. Joining Teach for America Corps assigned to the Greater New Orleans area.
· Courtney Glover. Will be working for Department of Public Health in Atlanta through the Directors of Public Health Education (DHPE) program.
· Shantrell Green. A participant in the Keys to Success Single Parent Residential Program, will be employed by the New Orleans Film Commission.
· Edward Buckles. An award winning filmmaker he is completing production of his film Katrina Babies funded by the New Orleans Film Society, and will begin on June 7th working with the television franchise, NCIS.
· Vivian Adams. Concert choir soprano will begin in about 10 days singing the praises of Dillard as an admissions recruiter.
· Olivia Babb. Admitted to 3 law schools and will be attending Southern University.
· Tyrell Collins. Will attend Columbia College in Chicago, IL. For a master of fine arts program in creative writing specializing in fiction.
· Brittany Smith. Women’s basketball co-captain will start at UNO for a masters in finance.
· Arian Pierre. Will attend Emerson College in Boston for a masters in Global Marketing, Communication and Advertising.
· Shakayla Nunez. Will attend Morehouse Medical School for a Masters Degree in Biomedical Science.
· Melritha Spencer. Will attend Liberty University for seminary.
· Kentrell Roberts. Concert choir Lyric Baritone will attend Graduate School at Loyola University in New Orleans majoring in Voice Performance.
· Samantha Brown. Will attend Jackson State for a masters of public health in epidemiology.
· Michael Brathwaite. Admitted to Penn State University for the Family Nurse Practitioner MSN Program, but has employment opportunities with Holy Main Medical Center in New Jersey in the Emergency Department, and with Our Lady of the Lake, Baton Rouge in the Surgical Nurse Residency Program
· Danita LeBeau. Will be attending SUNO for their master of social work program.
· Calvinesha Weaver. Invited by the director of the Tropical Pathology and Infectious Disease Association to attend the University of Health Sciences Antigua School of Medicine.
· Brother act. Trevion and Germoin (jer MON) Green, brothers graduating together today, both in Public Health.
· Sister act. Jennifer and Jeannine Jackson, twins graduating today, both in biology.
· Lynisha Jordan. Today is her 22nd Birthday.
· Casey Hawkins. Today is her 23rd birthday.
· Trenell Williams. This week earned a back belt in martial arts, the first for the new Dillard University martial arts program.
· Charlene Ellis. Charlene was supposed to graduate in May 2012 but was pregnant and had to have an emergency C-section her senior year so she didn’t finish her last semester…until now. She sat out 3 years and just returned this semester to finish.
· Dwan Jacque: Non-traditional, single mother of two participated in our Keys to Degrees program for single parents this past year which allowed her to be able to live on campus and stay involved. She comes from a long line of Dillard attendees including her mother, aunts, & grandmother but is the first to receive her degree from Dillard and the first in immediate family to receive a college degree. She is graduating in just 3 years, and taking advantage of our pre-law program she is now heading to Loyola University for law school.
· John Johnson. 32 years old husband and father, attended Dillard from 2000-2004 and I left in the spring of 2004 because of personal reasons. He moved to Baton Rouge, got married, entered the workforce, and began a full time job. He worked at this job diligently for 9 years, but during the course of his employment I began to see that just working wasn't enough. He started taking night classes at Southern University, because commuting back and forth and supporting a family just wasn't feasible. His wife encouraged him to get a degree audit so he could finish at Dillard. 32 credit hours to complete my goal. He continued working full time and attending night classes. In February of last year he found out he was going to be laid off from his job, so stepped out on faith to finish school. He took 18 credit hours commuted back and forth from Baton Rouge 5 days a week, and finished last semester on the Dean's List.
· Calvin Felton. When his mother was pregnant with him she was told he would have Downs Syndrome but he doesn't. When he was a young child he was diagnosed with autism but his mother refused to put him on medication as doctors suggested. In the 5th grade his special education teacher told him he would never graduate high school. After that, his mother took him out of special education and committed herself to working with him and giving him more attention and he continued in all regular courses through graduation. Today he is graduating from Dillard University.
Monday, April 27, 2015
Going back to about 2007 I have done special awards for first year students. Some are for those who work with the lecture series as this is always a great opportunity for freshmen to get involved.
Lauren and Tevon were my Diaper Dandys, essentially 2 freshmen who had a great year. When I do freshman lunch group meetings I always ask them who is impressive in their class. These two were mentioned a number of times, plus they did extremely well academically.
I also added one more for a student that really understandings hustling. Aaron, as a freshman, tracked down the president of Entergy New Orleans because he is interested in energy law, went to his office to have breakfast, and now has a great connection. In addition he will be an intern with one of his Congressmen from Georgia. This is what I want all students to do- don't wait for things to happen to you, make them happen FOR you.
Monday, April 20, 2015
So I was watching the VH1 special on Hip Hop and Atlanta, and was seeing tweets from Killer Mike. Some kind of way we began connecting through the show and I said he needed to come speak to my class. Interestingly, his sister is a Dillard graduate so that was an additional motivation.
Don't ever let people tell you there is not brilliance in hip hop. Mike "Killer Mike" Render is brilliant. He began Morehouse College only to get signed by what would have been his senior year, and yet his extensive knowledge was evident by the books he cited. Very well read!
So we were able to talk about not just First Amendment issues, but broader ethical issues related to hip hop, Black communities, etc. I think he wowed the class.
Yesterday we honored Xavier University president Dr. Norman C. Francis with an honorary degree. He has received a few and many more to come, but I felt that as a sister institution we should be among that group.
Dr. Francis is the longest serving president in the nation, in his 48th year. In fact, he began those duties on April 4, 1968 (historic in its own right). I turned one later that month so he has essentially been the president there my entire life.
There will be many pieces written about his impact on higher education, but he has been a tremendous advocate for HBCUs and has been able to bring those issues to the highest levels of government for decades. There will never be another one like him, and I am glad I know him.
Sunday, March 8, 2015
This is my second semester teaching Philosophy 444 (I Cram to Understand: Hip Hop, Sex, Gender and Ethical Behavior). It came out of discussions with MC Lyte and she was the co-instructor last term. I was only going to teach the class once a year but there was still interest so I am continuing it this semester. This is a flipped class, where most lectures, videos, etc. are viewed before class and then we have the time in class to work through issues and have rich discussions.
Skype has been an important tool. I have been able to have some great guests, including public intellectuals Michael Eric Dyson and James Peterson, Industry Ears founder Lisa Fager, and pastor of Impact Church in Atlanta, Rev. Olu Brown. Above, Attorney Deanne Arthur in San Diego spoke to us about a case where her client (Tiny Doo) is being tried on conspiracy charges for rapping about gang life. They are trying to tie him to some murders even though his lyrics are not about any specific crimes. This case has been covered by national media including CNN, so it was a coup to get her for class.
This past week journalist Rajul Punjabi stopped by to discuss issues including cultural appropriation. I was in New York for the UNCF meeting so I had to Skype in, which was cool because I could still hear her presentation and engage the class as well. There are just so many more options with technology these days.
I am looking forward to the rest of the semester. Killer Mike is coming to visit March 25th, hip hop industry exec Shanti Das will be here April 1st, and hopefully I can get a surprise guest in soon (hopefully this week!)
So I think I will teach the class every semester now. It is extra work, but it has been a great way to interact with students I might not normally meet. I have 17 this semester but going up to 24 in the fall. That might be the ceiling for enrollment.
Follow the class on Twitter using the hashtag #PHI444.
Sunday, March 1, 2015
It is hard finding a picture of someone who often has a camera in his hands. But this picture was taken on my birthday last year with the staff development committee. On the far left is Mr. Arthur Winfield whose funeral was held Saturday at Dillard. I would guess that over 600 people attended, and as many say, if you live your eulogy every day, you will see this kind of outpouring of love and support at your service of celebration.
Mr. Winfield always had a camera available to take photos. It really was a symbol that he was a servant leader- he didn't have to be in front at all, but working behind the scenes to make things happen. I learned yesterday that he served as the undergraduate advisor for our Kappa Alpha Psi chapter for over 15 years, and that his line brother is former NBA champion George Johnson (6'11" tall), so they were the bookends of their line in the late 1960s.
Some people you can just say are "good people." You never hear any bad words spoken about them, and they are always positive. That's how I would describe Mr. Winfield - good people. He lived his life in a manner that many of us should emulate.
And it starts with understanding that we need not be in front of the camera all of the time. Sometimes we need to get behind it so we can help others see what they might not normally see. Because being behind the camera can give you great perspective.
Here's to a great son of Dillard, Arthur James Winfield.
Sunday, February 22, 2015
We just began our third annual LSAT prep course. This course and the growth of our pre-law program is a result of the university honoring Justice Revius Ortique when the new professional schools building was opened. We launched the Ortique courtroom and hosted the first Ortique lecture on law and society in 2010 with Attorney General Eric Holder. This past December the speaker was Benjamin Crump.
The main challenge facing students of color is having no experience with the LSAT prior to taking it, therefore the scores are low (with African Americans the lowest). For the first two years the average score increased by 10 points for all completers, with a 14 point increase for students who fully engaged in the course.
This year we're starting with 19 students (almost all juniors)! Thanks to the support of alums and friends who have made this experience possible for our students. So we're expecting a big group entering law school for the fall of 2016.