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Tuskegee University honors over 800 graduates from the classes of 2020-2021 in historic commencement ceremony

June 01, 2021

Keynote speaker Bakari Sellers, CNN Political Analyst and Former Representative from South Carolina, delivering the commencement address.
Keynote speaker Bakari Sellers, CNN Political Analyst and Former Representative from South Carolina, delivering the commencement address.

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Dr. Charlotte P. Morris brings greetings.
Dr. Charlotte P. Morris bringing greetings.

Tuskegee University hosted its largest Spring Commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 30, 2021, at Cramton Bowl in Montgomery, Alabama. Families and friends gathered to celebrate over 800 graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021. The weather was perfect, and the spirit was jubilant.

“Due to the COVID-19 pandemic, we had to cancel last years in-person commencement ceremony, and we knew that we had to make it up to our graduates,” said Interim President, Dr. Charlotte P. Morris. “Moving the ceremony to a larger off-campus venue provided the space we needed to safely accommodate our graduates and their families.”

A message to the graduates

Keynote speaker Bakari Sellers, CNN Political Analyst and Former Representative from South Carolina, offered his congratulations to the graduates and jokingly reminded students that he would be brief.

“You did all of this work, and your great reward is that you have to work harder. Even when you are knocked down and tired and it feels like you can’t get anything right and you wondered what you are doing this for.” Sellers reminded the graduates “it would all be worth it”.

He shared a story about Smoking Joe Frasier and through his perseverance and determination he went on to become a heavy weight champion of the world.  He’s also known as one of only a few men to defeat the great Muhammad Ali.

Sellers described the college experience as enduring a relentless series of blows to the head that leave you beaten and bewildered but leaves you in a position to make history—demonstrating what is possible when a prepared body and mind finds opportunity and absolutely refuses to quit.

Memorial tribute for Kayla Marie Jones.
Memorial tribute for Kayla Marie Jones.

He told the graduates “to celebrate tonight [their moment] but understand your responsibility begins tomorrow”. He equated it to the same responsibility that Booker T. Washington brought to [Tuskegee] leading this institution of higher learning into the historic caliber it is today.

Pausing to remember a fallen student

During a somber moment, Interim President Charlotte P. Morris took time to honor the late scholar and master student, Kayla Marie Jones, a transfer student from Fremont, California who died in a car accident in October 2020.

Jones’s parents, Frank and Kimenique Jones, were presented her degree posthumously.  She completed the Master of Science degree in Animal Sciences in 2020 and conducted undergraduate research over four years in the lab of Dr. Deloris Alexander in the Integrative Biosciences program. Jones was a certified Veterinarian Assistant.  

Interim President Morris noted, “With academic excellence, a strong commitment to community service, and animal health, Tuskegee University is pleased to present this diploma to you in memory of Kayla Marie Jones’ who personified “excellence in every way.”

Honoring a Native Tuskegee Son

During the ceremony, the University and the Board of Trustees presented alumnus Dr. David K. Wilson ’77, ’79 the honorary degree, Doctor of Humane Letters.

Alumnus Dr. David K. Wilson ’77, ’79 being presented the honorary degree
Alumnus Dr. David K. Wilson ’77, ’79 being presented the honorary degree.

Wilson has served as President of Morgan State University since 2010, chancellor at both The University of Wisconsin Colleges and The University of Wisconsin-Extension, Vice President for University Outreach and Associate Provost at Auburn University, and Associate Provost of Rutgers, and the State University of New Jersey.  

“It is an extreme honor and a privilege to receive an honorary degree from my alma mater – the very institution that took a chance on me, taking me from humble beginnings to introducing me to a world of opportunities that awaited through acquiring a college education,” said David Wilson, Ed.D., president of Morgan State University.

“Tuskegee University holds a very special place in my heart and to be back on the campus, once again upon a stage that I crossed so many years ago, it is an experience that I shall forever hold dear. Among the various degrees and recognitions that I have accumulated throughout my career in higher education, this honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters will be the most cherished.”

A true, higher education executive, scholar and thought leader, Wilson is author of two books and many articles, and has received numerous honors and awards, including one of the nation’s top 100 leaders in higher education by the American Association of Higher Education.

“Our Alma Mater is proud to honor your life, your accomplishments, and your contributions.  During every leadership experience, you have demonstrated compassion and resolve, wisdom and understanding, integrity and commitment,” said Morris.  “We salute your dignity, your grace, your wit, and your strength.”

Click here to view photos of the Commencement Ceremony and watch the ceremony below on our Youtube channel.

© 2021 Tuskegee University