DURHAM, N.C. — North Carolina Central University (NCCU) awarded approximately 718 diplomas on Saturday, May 14, 2016, during the university’s 127th Baccalaureate Commencement Exercises. U.S. Senator Cory Booker, delivered the Commencement address to the largest graduating class in the university’s 105-year history.
Booker began his address by giving a history of his family’s connection to NCCU. The late father of Booker, Cary Booker, a native of Hendersonville, N.C., is a 1962 graduate of NCCU. Throughout his address Booker recalled events with his father noting life lessons and words of inspiration.
“I’m the son of an Eagle, I would not be on my current path if it was not for this great university – the legacy that you’ll protect and advance is the reason why I’m standing here today,” said Booker. “Without this university, I would not be a Senator from New Jersey, I would not be the fourth African-American elected in the U.S. Senate in the history of our country.”
Booker gave graduates advice given to him from his father on how to be a change agent. “There are two ways to go through life, either as a thermometer or a thermostat; every day you have a choice,” said Booker. “You can be like a thermometer, reflecting the world around you or a thermostat and set the temperature.”
“Life is not about seeing big accomplishments, it’s most about making things manifest in what you do every day,” said Booker.
Referencing Alice Walker’s In Search Of My Mother’s Garden, he said: “The real revolution is always concerned with the least glamorous stuff. With raising a reading level from second grade to third. With simplifying history and writing it down (or reciting it) for the old folks. With helping illiterates fill out food-stamp forms – for they must eat, revolution or not. The dull, frustrating work with our people. It means, most of all, staying close enough to them to be there whenever they need you.”
“Be close enough to people when they need you,” he told the audience.
Booker concluded his address by advising graduates to stay faithful in character and honor.
“Stay faithful because you are the evidence of the faithfulness of your ancestors, you are the substance of their hopes and dreams,” said Booker. “Stay faithful in things large and taking on the world but stay faithful in small things – remember it’s the small thing, the size of a mustard seed, that ultimately moves mountains.”
“Stay faithful in your response you may not think the world as a whole change, but you will make a world of change to many people,” he told graduates.
During the ceremony, NCCU Chancellor Debra Saunders-White recognized Department of Psychology and Department of Criminal Justice graduate, Jelaina Shipman.
Shipman is a native of White Oak, N.C., who has been a high achieving student at NCCU and received two degrees: a Bachelor of Science in Criminal Justice and a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology. Shipman graduated with a 3.7 GPA and has served in several honor societies and participated in NCCU’s Honda Campus All-Star Challenge academic team for four years. Shipman will continue her studies at NCCU to pursue a master’s in psychology.
Additionally, NCCU Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Dr. Johnson O. Akinleye recognized three students who graduated with a 4.0 GPA: Jennifer Tracy, Janelle Billingsley and Amanda Smith.
Former NCCU Board of Trustees members, Dr. Dwight D. Perry, Ms. Avon Ruffin and Attorney Charles Baron were honored for their dedicated service to the university. Each individual was awarded the designation of Trustee Emeriti.
Four faculty members were honored during the ceremony. Dr. Peggy P. Whiting, Counselor Education Program coordinator and professor, received the UNC Board of Governors Award in Teaching Excellence. The North Carolina Central University Awards for Teaching Excellence were presented to Dr. S. Catherine Silver Key, associate professor, Department of Biological and Biomedical Sciences; Dr. Kayvan M. Lavassani, assistant professor, Department of Business Administration; and Dr. Rolin Mainuddin, associate professor, Department of Political Science.
Several of Booker’s family members including his mother, brother and aunt were in attendance. Notable NCCU alumnus and chairman of the Congressional Black Caucus (CBC), Congressman G. K. Butterfield (NC-01), was in attendance for his fellow CBC member’s speech and gave remarks.
Saunders-White closed the ceremony with words of encouragement to graduates by saying, “As you prepare to depart from this great academy, always remember to practice the ideals of “Truth and Service” for this is what NCCU is built on. As an Eagle you must make an impact, spread your wings, be fearless and hold your head up high. Eagles, you must soar.”
A rebroadcast of NCCU’s 127th Commencement Exercises will be available at www.nccu.edu/live