U.S. Secretary of Agriculture speaks to Tuskegee University graduates, opens new building


Teri Sumbry





TUSKEGEE, Ala. (May 13, 2013) — Tuskegee University said farewell to the Class of 2013 during its 128th Spring Commencement Exercises May 11 in the Gen. Daniel “Chappie” James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education. The class of 400 jubilant graduates and their families were addressed by Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon and Thomas Vilsack, the secretary of the United States Department of Agriculture.

In introductory remarks, Rochon told the audience that the university’s past is deeply rooted in agricultural studies. He also said agriculture still remains very much relevant in the New Millennium.

“By 2050, the world’s population is expected to surpass nine billion. In order to prepare for this growth, we must be dedicated to environmental sustainability, food security and innovative research,” Rochon said. “We are determined that Tuskegee graduates will be prepared to be on the frontlines of those issues.”

Vilsack: “Seek common ground.”

In his keynote address, Vilsack said America and the world have numerous issues in need of resolutions such as climate change food security. In order to address those issues, Vilsack urged the graduates not to cling to rigid positions, but to always try to see the perspective of the “murky middle.”

“The future problem solvers, and that is what you have been trained to be, seek common ground and common purpose,” Vilsack said.

He went on to explain that he and everyone assembled wanted all of the graduates to be successful, but urged them to be mindful of those who contributed to their success. As they move forward, Vilsack said graduates must also remember that there are problems ahead.

“I want you to accept the challenge of your time,” Vilsack said. “Don’t be afraid to seek compromise, embrace the middle, and embrace the compromise.”

After the keynote address, Rochon conferred upon Vilsack an honorary Doctor of Laws degree, honoris causa. Rochon was assisted by Luther S. Williams, provost and executive vice president and retired Maj. Gen. Charles E. Williams, chair of the Tuskegee University Board of Trustees.

New science building opened

May 10, Vilsack helped to open the first new science building on the university’s campus in 80 years. Vilsack, Rochon. Marc H. Morial, president and CEO of the National Urban League, and several representatives from the university community cut the ribbon for James Henry Meriwether Henderson Hall. The new facility will house state-of-the-art classrooms and laboratories to support science and agricultural education programs.

James H.M. Henderson was a Tuskegee professor and administrator who spent more than 50 years at the university. He came to Tuskegee in 1945 and taught botany and plant physiology. He also served as head of the biology department, chair of the Division of Natural Sciences and director of the Carver Research Foundation.

“This building speaks to a man who made a commitment to education,” Vilsack said at the ribbon cutting ceremony. “There is no greater gift.”

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