(JACKSON, Miss) – Having been delayed of his degree for nearly 50 years,
Judge Walter Williams was perhaps one of the happiest of the approximately 375 students who received undergraduate or graduate degrees during Jackson State University’s summer commencement exercises held Saturday, Aug. 6, at the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center.
“I was the first one in my family to attend college,” said Williams, now 72. “It is unfortunate that I wasn’t the first to earn a degree, but I’m very happy this day has come.”
In the fall of 1961, Williams walked onto Jackson College’s campus prepared for his senior year of college. The previous year had been a busy one. As president of the Student Government Association, the Yazoo City native was responsible for a number of student-related activities. It was quite natural for the political science major also to become involved in the Civil Rights Movement and lead the collegiate chapter of the NAACP. The group marched in protest of inequalities including the events surrounding Tougaloo College students’ attempts to integrate a local library.
Williams never imagined those activities would prevent him from actually getting his bachelor’s degree. According to Williams, his Civil Rights involvement caused him to be expelled from school.
However, Williams did continue his education, completing his juris doctorate in 1970 at Chicago’s John Marshall Law School. Today he is a circuit court judge of Cook County, Ill.
Judge Carlton Reeves addresses the Class of 2011
During his commencement address, 1986 Jackson State alumnus Judge Carlton Reeves asked the university’s newest alumni to remember others as they celebrate their accomplishment.
“Know that you are not where you are today without the sacrifices of others,” Reeves said before an audience of more than 6,800 family, friends and well-wishers. “Never, never, never forget those folk and claim ownership for your successes.”
Reeves had more important advice for graduates in this age of technology. When looking for jobs, Reeves cautioned graduates to be mindful of their social media activity.
“What is on your Facebook page? What have you tweeted? What video do you have on YouTube?,” he asked. “Are the images of you out there pleasing to your mother? Do they make your grandmother proud?”
Irresponsible social media activity, he warned, could lead a human resources manager to exclude graduates from positions before an interview is possible.
The Akotos earn Ph.D.s together
Husband-and-wife team Edward and Eunice Akoto are not very much concerned about their social networking activities holding them back. They are, however, excited about beginning their job search. They competed against each other while pursuing undergraduate studies in Ghana and studied together as they pursued master’s degrees in England. They’ve now completed their academic study at JSU this summer, both receiving Ph.D.s on Saturday. Having been in school throughout their seven-year marriage, studying together has become natural.
“I understood him,” said Eunice, who received her doctoral degree in public administration.
“I think we understood each other,” they said in unison.
“We had our ups and downs,” said Edward, who received his degree in business administration. “The fact that we were both in a degree program at the same time on the same level was helpful. Oftentimes I’d be doing an assignment and she’d be doing assignments. If only one of us were taking classes, the other might become bored.”
Now the couple can focus on their professional careers, teaching on the college level and maybe a baby or two.
“We’ve just been praying for the right time.” said Eunice.
Dumas, JSU’s youngest Executive Ph.D. recipient
The time was right for Brandon K. Dumas who at 26 has become the youngest student to graduate from Jackson State’s Executive Ph.D. Program.
“I’ve been served extremely well by the university,” said Dumas, deputy chief of staff to the office of the president of Southern University system. “The faculty and staff in the Executive Ph.D. Program represent the epitome of what Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) leadership is all about.”
Dumas, who holds a bachelor’s degree from Southern University and an M.B.A. from Salem University in Salem, W.Va., wants to ultimately lead an HBCU as president.
“Leadership has always been my passion,” said Dumas, a native of Baton Rouge and proud husband and father of two daughters. “I firmly believe that individuals who appreciate, understand and are products of HBCUs should feel responsible to reach back and do what we can to ensure that these institutions remain strong and ready to meet the needs of our future students.”