It’s commencement time for many HBCUs.

Last week I spoke at Fisk University and Saturday I address the graduates at Stillman College in Tuscaloosa, Alabama.

As with all commencement speeches, my goal is to  motivate and inspire, something I struggled with this year more than others. I mean, there are always some proud moments that distinguish a class from previous ones.  In 1963, Vivian Malone and James Hood registered for school at Alabama State despite Gov. George Wallace blocking their way. In 1978, the Supreme Court upheld affirmative action.  In 1995, the Million Man March was held in Washington.  In 2008, Barack Obama was elected to the presidency of the United States.

But even with highlights like Gabby winning the gold and the re-election of the Big Chief, we have to face the fact that the class of 2013 will graduate facing major debt and high unemployment.

But I only had to wallow in this puddle of gloom and doom for a short time until I realized that in spite of the way the future looks, getting a four-year college degree is the first weapon in the fight for good jobs most graduates seek.

One article I read outlines the benefits of having a college degree including higher lifetime earning, access to jobs with better benefits, and the fact that it opens the door to networking opportunities that can turn into more. But even if this is true, and I believe it is, the bottom line is most college graduates are going to have to work longer and harder to achieve their goals, even if those goals are as basic as moving out of their mama’s and daddy’s house in two years.

Still, other graduates in other times have faced much bigger challenges than these, yet they somehow were motivated enough to succeed. In 1965, President Lyndon B. Johnson addressed the graduating class at Howard University and here’s an excerpt of what he said:

“For the task is to give 20 million Negroes the same chance as every other American to learn and grow, to work and share in society, to develop their abilities–physical, mental and spiritual, and to pursue their individual happiness. To this end equal opportunity is essential, but not enough, not enough. Men and women of all races are born with the same range of abilities. But ability is not just the product of birth. Ability is stretched or stunted by the family that you live with, and the neighborhood you live in, by the school you go to and the poverty or the richness of your surroundings. It is the product of a hundred unseen forces playing upon the little infant, the child, and finally the man.”

I’m not sure how many graduates actually listen to the commencement speeches. I can barely remember mine.  But I’m pretty sure that most grads, whether they’re entering a season of peace and prosperity or war and poverty, have the same emotions—worries that they might fail and hopes that they can live up to the expectations they and their families have for their future.

I’m just a DJ with a few honorary degrees, but I know that being prepared, getting there early, staying late, and being drug-free puts you ahead of the game no matter what career you choose.  I also know that you should choose a profession that you love enough to do long enough to start making some money.  I got into radio because I loved it, was pretty good at it and could wear shorts and flip flops to work. The money came years later.

Those of you who had a role in a graduate making it to this point, this son, daughter, nephew, niece or mentee might need you to be patient with them as they begin a new life after college…starting with a ride BACK home to your house.  But that doesn’t take away from what they have achieved up to now. It takes commitment, dedication, intelligence and perseverance to get a degree. It takes even more for them to realize the importance of giving back
once they’ve made it this far. If you’ve got a grad who has mastered these things, you should be very proud.

Congratulations, Class of 2013!

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3 thoughts on “A Different World

  1. The most important thing about getting a degree is the investment that you’ve made in yourself. While it’s important to make money and be able to support yourself, it pales in comparison to the discipline, knowledge, and self-esteem that was necessary for you to develop to achieve what you’ve just accomplished.
    Money, stature, and titles can be easily taken away from you by other men, but the knowledge, character, and wisdom that you’ve obtained is yours FOREVER, and no one can EVER take that away from you.
    But just because you’ve obtained a degree, don’t think of your education as done. Make the pursuit of knowledge a lifetime endeavor. Continue to invest in yourself, and make your biggest competitor the person that you were the day before. If you follow that advice you’ll never have to be bitter, insecure, or have to prove yourself, because everyone who comes in contact with you will immediately see the knowledge, character, and confidence in your eyes; and anyone who professes to be superior or better than you, will have to demonstrate that they can out-think you.

    I now stand firm. My conviction of the power of knowledge is the platform upon which my podium rests. I stand firm, strong, and now free. Free of anger. Free of self-delusion. Free of the folly of empty vanity, and free of the pernicious bane of meaningless pride without substance.
    I stand free to look upon the eyes of other men, reflecting dignity over sorrow, and accomplishment over pain; I stand with a burning passion, fueled by the very flame that forged ancestral shackles,with a deep sense of pride and a pride that flows deep.
    I now stand erect. The steel that once degraded my father, that chained him in bondage to this bitter Earth, now reinforce my character, making me more, rather than less; and the blood and sweat that once drenched his brow, now rage with resolve and a sense of purpose within my burning breast.
    I now stand as a new being – neither simply African, nor simply American, but a hybrid forced to transcend the sum of my parts; no longer simply African, since being torn away from the African motherland to suffer and toil in the fields of America, and more than simply American, after being forced to be more than simply American just to survive within the bowels of this prosperous land.
    Thus, I stand now armed – armed with the wisdom of deprivation, the courage of my conviction, and a deep conviction of my courage; and fortified – with the confidence of a survivor, the empowerment of knowledge, and a ravishing hunger for greatness.
    I now stand the product of love, struggle, and sacrifice; a witness to man’s inhumanity to man, and a monument to the hopes and dreams of a million slaves.
    I now stand embraced by my creator, as God now smiles upon my people.
    Yes, I Now Stand Firm.
    Firm, Black, and Free.

  2. James Taggart on said:

    The Fly Joc Tom Joyner made some excellent points in his Stillman College commencement speech. I was not one of the graduates but I did participate as one of the security personnel responsible for getting Mr. Joyner from the stage to the building where he made a brisk exit! LOL. At one point Tom look at me while a young female was attempting to snap a photo and said “you are blocking my light young brother!”LOL I say that to say this I hold a Masters’ degree nevertheless I was working security! Why you ask? because we as blacks must be willing to go that extreme mile to succeed in life furthermore it pays 40 dollars an hour! LOL My point is that often people(Blacks) see a young Blackman in a security shirt and think he couldn’t get any other job because he has no education or training. Amazing speech Tom keep doing what to do for the black community.

  3. Pingback: A Different World « Brand Newz

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