Livingstone holds 126th commencement
By Shavonne Potts
Prevail. Conquer. Triumph. Overcome.
It’s what Jacqueline Hillian did along with more than 100 others who walked across the stage Saturday at Livingstone College’s commencement service.
The graduates along with family, friends, faculty and staff filled the college’s alumni memorial stadium.
Hillian, a teacher’s assistant at Isenberg Elementary, decided in her late 40s to attend college. She was not without obstacles, including raising a grandson and working a full-time job.
She was prompted to get a degree by the No Child Left Behind Act, which was designed to improve the quality of education among students and teachers. The NCLB act mandated that Hillian at least obtain a two-year degree.
Hillian, 53, at first sought a degree in elementary education, but she didn’t just want to teach.
“I still want to work with children. I want to work with at-risk youth or some type of program that deters them from bad behavior,” she said.
The East Spencer resident began her studies in 2003. She was at first a little intimidated.
“I thought I’d be the only one with the younger generation,” she said.
To Hillian’s surprise there were other mature graduates in her classes.
“It was wonderful. I felt good that others my age were attending,” Hillian said.
There were many late nights and early mornings Hillian was slowly typing papers and many more trips to the library doing Internet research.
“I never took typing in high school and that was a problem,” she said.
Some courses were easier than others and Hillian admits research papers were hard and challenging.
“The first year was kind of rough. It was a struggle, but an accomplishment,” she said.
Obtaining a college degree was something Hillian knew she could do.
“If I could make a difference in one person by not taking the wrong route, I feel like I can extend myself a little further,” Hillian said.
Hillian is thankful for the support of her husband, Samuel, who many nights watched their grandson, Malik, 11.
“He thinks it’s wonderful. He’s very happy,” she said of her husband.
Her Isenberg school family were also a big help. They proofread her papers and gave her the push she needed to keep going.
Hillian also received support from her criminal justice instructor, Professor Chris Herring.
“He was very inspiring,” she said.
When Hillian told Herring she couldn’t type, he told her it didn’t matter how fast she typed but what was important was that she got it done.
“He just kept telling me I could do it,” she said of Herring.
During her five years at Livingstone, Hillian was inducted into Alpha Sigma Lambda, an honor society, she’s maintained a grade point average of 3.1 and joined Alpha Kappa Alpha Sorority Inc.
Hillian’s advice to others her age, “it’s never too late to further yourself.”
She said it won’t be without trials and tribulations, but “it’s worth it in the end,” she promises.
She hopes to obtain her master’s degree, “but not right away,” she said.
Her grandson misses her, she added.
The unofficial theme of Saturday’s commencement seemed to be about overcoming obstacles, but with encouraging words from speakers, all obstacles were behind.
“Today our journey is ending ó a new journey is beginning,” said Letishia Chapman, class valedictorian.
Chapman spoke with a Maya Angelou-like bravado, urging the class of 2008 to be “undeniably, irrevocably” the best they could be.
“Beneath these maple and oaks, we’ve grown. We are no longer acorns, but our own trees,” Chapman said.
The keynote speaker was Sheila Khama, chief executive officer of De Beers Botswana.
De Beers is responsible for nearly half of the world’s diamond production. Khama is responsible for the effective representation and advancement of De Beers’ interests in Botswana.
Born and raised in Botswana, Khama flew 20 hours to speak to the graduates.Khama told the graduates that their education was not just about what they could do for themselves, but for their community.
“Education is and will always be your primary tool kit,” she said.
She told the graduates that the future belonged to them.
“Think of yourselves as diamonds in the rough whose brilliance and sparkle will be unlocked by your sense of courage and integrity,” she said.
Like Jacqueline Hillian, Brandon Wynn-Milton, a native of Boston, faced challenges and reaped the rewards of earning a degree in sport management.
“I’m very excited,” he said proudly.
Wynn-Milton wasn’t sure he’d be graduating.
He grew up in a crime riddled area and “wasn’t sure I’d be alive to see this,” he said.Wynn-Milton admits he also wasn’t exactly the most motivated student in high school. Nonetheless, he proudly walked across the stage knowing he had the support of his family, friends, faculty and staff, who motivated and supported him each step of the way.
He hopes to obtain his master’s degree and eventually open a chain of physcial therapy clinics.
The following were awarded honorary degrees: Sheila Khama, doctor of humane letters; Dr. Frances C. Peterson, doctor of humane letters; the Rev. Mulbah Blamah Gray Sr., doctor of divinity; and the Rev. Benjamin Lloyd Morrow Jr., doctor of divinity.
Contact Shavonne Potts at 704-797-4253 or spotts @salisburypost.com.