(JACKSON, Miss.) – Newark, N.J., Mayor Cory Booker urged Jackson State University graduates on Saturday, April 28, to stand up for what they believe and continue their ancestors’ struggle for freedom and justice for all.
“If you stand and tell your truth, you will be the generation that makes real on the promise of this country,” said Booker, who addressed 1,321 graduates at JSU’s undergraduate commencement at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium. “You all have an obligation to stand in this world and tell this world who you are.”
Booker spoke about how his parents continued the work of their forebearers by opening doors for the next generation of African Americans. The couple became the first black executives hired by IBM and tested New Jersey’s fair housing law by shopping for homes in an all-white neighborhood.
“You need to understand something about your generation,” Booker said. “You all drink deeply from wells of liberty and freedom that you did not dig. Don’t just sit back. You need to take those blessings to fuel you to continue that conspiracy of love.”
Booker was elected mayor of New Jersey’s largest city in 2006 following a sweeping electoral victory and was re-elected to a second term in 2010. He received a B.A. and M.A. from Stanford University, a B.A. in modern history at Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, and completed his law degree at Yale University.
During the commencement ceremony, Miss JSU Mea Ashley presented JSU President Carolyn W. Meyers with a check for $12,500, which she raised during her Miss JSU Queens Campaign. The donation will be matched by Title III funds to create a $25,000 endowment for scholarships.
The spring 2012 class included Yolanda Perkins, who is the first person to graduate from JSU’s online childcare and family education program.
“I started classes on campus three years ago, but I had to stop,” said Perkins, a mother of two who is a Head Start teacher in Hazlehurst, Miss. “With online courses it was more convenient. I was at home and could help my kids with their homework. It saved me time and gas costs too.”
Fellow 2012 graduate Charles Johnson also is a nontraditional student.
The 61-year-old father of six started his education at JSU in 1974, but didn’t finish due to his struggle with drugs and alcohol. Though he managed to sustain a career as a nurse, he lost his license in 2003 due to his drinking. His next blow came in 2005 when Hurricane Katrina forced Johnson and his family to move from their home in Bay St. Louis, Miss.
“We barely survived,” said Johnson, who relocated to Brandon, Miss.
A year after completing treatment in Mississippi for substance abuse, Johnson signed up for classes at a community college. In 2010, he enrolled at JSU as a junior sociology major.
“Coming back to Jackson State gave me something to live for,” said Johnson, who works as a clinical assistant at a drug treatment center. “I wanted to give back because I was clean and sober.”
Johnson will continue his studies at JSU in the fall when he starts work on his graduate degree in sociology with a concentration in chemical dependency.
JSU held its graduate commencement ceremony on Friday, April 27, at the Lee E. Williams Athletics and Assembly Center. University of Pennsylvania scholar Marybeth Gasman delivered the commencement address to more than 300 graduates.
A historian of higher education, Gasman’s work explores issues pertaining to philanthropy and historically black colleges, black leadership, contemporary fundraising issues at black colleges and African-American giving. Gasman is the author or editor of several books, including Envisioning Black Colleges: A History of the United Negro College Fund. Gasman received a Ph.D. in higher education from Indiana University in 2000.
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About Jackson State University: Challenging Minds, Changing Lives
Jackson State University, founded in 1877, is a historically black, high research activity university located in Jackson, the capital city of Mississippi. Jackson State’s nurturing academic environment challenges individuals to change lives through teaching, research and service. Officially designated as Mississippi’s Urban University, Jackson State continues to enhance the state, nation and world through comprehensive economic development, health-care, technological and educational initiatives. The only public university in the Jackson metropolitan area, Jackson State is located near downtown, with three satellite campuses throughout the city. For more information, visit www.jsums.edu.