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On a campus steeped in tradition and legacy — with visual reminders of its history everywhere you look — Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin referred to Tuskegee University’s summer graduates as “monuments to greatness” during remarks at last Friday’s Summer Commencement Exercises.
“You are the continuation of a great legacy. [You follow] giants who have shaped our world and their fields. Each of you graduates is a monument to greatness,” he said. “Here is the question: What will be your legacy? Unlock your potential using the keys you’ve received here on these hallowed grounds.”
Woodfin spoke to a standing-room-only crowd of 1,200-plus graduates, families, faculty and administrators during the July 26 ceremony in the University Chapel. The event also included remarks from President Lily D. McNair, university trustee Henry Davis III ’81, graduating senior and 2018-19 Mr. Tuskegee Tyrin Kirkland, and Tuskegee National Alumni Association President Burt Rowe ’70.
A graduate of Morehouse College — an HBCU like Tuskegee — Woodfin’s endorsement of the “HBCU experience” was met with resounding applause.
“There is no experience like an HBCU education. History. Algebra. Every class you take is basically a black history class,” he declared. “It goes without saying that when you leave here, you will be hit with adversity,” Woodfin pointed out, referring to situations of heartbreak, disappointments and setbacks, among other. “More often than not, adversity is part of the black experience. Our story is greater than the struggles. It’s one of survival.”
“Here’s the truth: You have been built to take on adversity head on and knock it down. That’s the HBCU way. We build champions,” he concluded.
The 120 degrees awarded during Friday’s ceremony included 75 bachelor’s degrees, 40 master’s degrees, and five doctoral degrees. The greatest concentration of degrees were bachelor’s degrees in nursing. This summer’s 28 graduates represent the nursing program’s largest group of graduates since the mid-1980s.
Graduates represented 21 states, with Alabama, Georgia, California, Florida and Texas topping the list, in that order. International students accounted for 15% of the graduating class and hailed from nine different countries — with Saudi Arabia and Nigeria among the top two.
When sworn in on Nov. 28, 2017, Woodfin became Birmingham’s youngest mayor in more than 120 years. The 38-year-old is an attorney and former president of the Birmingham Board of Education. Throughout his career, he has worked in various positions in municipal offices that included the Division of Youth Services, the Birmingham City Council, and the Jefferson County Committee for Economic Opportunity, as well as assistant city attorney.
Born and raised in North Birmingham, Woodfin attended Shades Valley High School and Morehouse College, where he majored in political science and served as president of the Student Government Association. He went on to earn his law degree from the Cumberland School of Law at Samford University in Birmingham.
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