'You've got to compete:' Speaker encourages students at Livingstone honors convocation

Published 12:00 am Friday, May 4, 2012

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone CollegeNews Service
During a recent program celebrating academic excellence at Livingstone College, students were encouraged to embrace the importance of historically black colleges and universities by an executive in the U.S. Department of Education.
Lenny F. Springs II also told the students they must continue working hard, despite the obstacles, to ensure they’re successful.
“Thirty percent of degrees obtained by African-Americans in science, technology, engineering and mathematics are obtained from HBCUs,” said Springs, senior advisor to the chief operating officer of federal student aid for traditionally under-resourced schools. “Moreover, 50 percent of African-American teachers in this country attended HBCUs, 85 percent of African-American doctors that practice medicine graduated from HBCUs and 35 percent of this country’s African-American lawyers graduated from HBCUs.
“So I say to you today, honor students, you’re in pretty good company,” Springs continued. “Be proud of the fact that you’re attending college. And be proud of the fact that you’re attending an HBCU.”
Springs’ comments regarding historically black colleges and universities were met with applause during the S.E. Duncan Honors Convocation held April 18 in Varick Auditorium. Duncan is a former Livingstone College president whose descendants maintain close ties to Livingstone.
Springs is the product of a historically black college. He earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration from Voorhees College in Denmark, S.C., and also has an honorary doctorate degree from Voorhees.
“I’m proud of the fact that I attended Voorhees,” Springs said. “I was a first generation college student. My mother and father didn’t even finish fifth grade … but my mother would always say ‘Boy, you can be somebody.’ ”
Springs told the honor students they, too, can be somebody, again garnering applause. But he didn’t sugarcoat things or mince words.
“I wish I could stand here and tell you it’s going to be easy, but it’s not,” Springs said. “I wish I could tell you you’re going to be welcomed with open arms in the marketplace, but you’re not. I wish I could tell you the playing field will be even, but no, it will not be. You’ve got to compete today in America. There are thousands and thousands of students being honored just like you all across America, and you’ve got to compete. You must believe in yourself, young people. And you must also understand it’s not where you come from that matters. It’s where you’re going.”
Springs told the students they cannot use being black as an excuse not to achieve greatness.
Then he referenced three prominent African-Americans who have excelled — President Barack Obama, Oprah Winfrey and Michael Jordan. He also mentioned Clarence H. Jackson IV, Student Government Association president at Livingstone College.
“One of you sitting in the audience may discover a cure for cancer,” Springs said. “One of you may become the world’s greatest scientist, or the world’s greatest engineer or the next Johnnie Cochran, Lester Holt, Earl Graves or the next late great Maynard Jackson. Who knows? But you must compete.”
Springs, who serves on the NAACP’s national board of directors, is a former president of Queen City Venture Partners LLC, a Charlotte minority investment firm. He also worked for the former Wachovia Corp., joining when it was still First Union.
He specializes in promoting public awareness and instituting progressive initiatives for community and business development.
For more than 25 years, Springs has designed, developed and implemented numerous programs for small and minority businesses and educational advancement programs.
He has authored many business and banking articles in local, regional and national publications and has received numerous awards and recognitions from the public and private sector.
As his speech came to a close, Springs told the students their journey doesn’t end when they leave Livingstone College. And he reminded them of the sacrifices that have been made for them.
“Your mother might have needed a new dress, but she sent you money instead,” Springs said. “And your father might have needed new tires for his truck, but he sent money to you instead. Your mother, father and your grandmother got on their knees and prayed for you. Stay grounded young folk. Also remember to give back to the community, to those that helped you and to Livingstone College. Make history and make Livingstone proud, but most of all, make yourself proud.”