Livingstone graduates urged to never forget their alma mater

Published 12:00 am Saturday, May 5, 2012

By Mark Wineka
SALISBURY — When Livingstone College commencement speaker Thomas W. Dortch Jr. encouraged graduates Saturday never to forsake their alma mater, he didn’t have far to look for an example of what he was talking about.
Seated right behind the 2012 Livingstone seniors Saturday were 33 members of the Class of 1962 — this year’s “Golden Graduates.”
Fifty years ago, they had been the ones graduating. Now their hair has turned a bit silver or disappeared completely. Most of them are retired. Maybe a few pounds have been added, and they might move a little slower.
But during lives and careers that have scattered them to all parts of the country, they’ve never forgotten Livingstone.
“I got such a wealth of knowledge from this place,” said Lena A. Graham of New Bedford, Mass.
Graham taught in Massachusetts elementary schools for 38 years after going back home from her four years at Livingstone. She headed south for her schooling after hearing about Livingstone through her AME Zion Church. She traveled back and forth from Massachusetts to Salisbury by train over the holidays and during summer breaks.
She still likes to come back. In fact, many members of the 1962 class routinely return to Livingstone for homecoming. They give money to the college and credit the school for giving them an education and friendships that have lasted a lifetime.
“We had a lot of closeness,” Jessie McPhail McClain, now of Durham, said, remembering how all the women lived in Goler Hall. “It was more like a family.”
Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins also encouraged this year’s 113 graduates to think of Livingstone as their bridge into the future. It’s a bridge, Jenkins told them, that has to be maintained with their future financial and moral support, so that their children and others may follow them across.
This year’s graduating glass represented 15 states, the District of Columbia, the Virgin Islands and Kenya.
Local graduates included Edward Franklin and Eddie Fortson of Kannapolis; Lashonda Horton, Gregory Summers II, Stephanie Broadway, Brian Aycoth, Leandra Salley, Marsha Chambers and Quetelashau Gaither of Salisbury; Kendra Grier of East Spencer; Twana Wilson of Cooleemee; and Jeremy M. Fairley of Albemarle.
Livingstone handed out bachelor’s degrees in criminal justice (22), business administration (18), social work (13), psychology (8), biology (7), computer information systems (7), history (6), liberal studies (5), sociology (5), sports management (5), English (4), mathematics (3), religious studies (3), music (3) and one each in theatre arts and accounting.
The academic leader of the senior class was Valedictorian Ezra Mutai, a biology major from Bomet, Kenya. His parents crossed the ocean to take part in his graduation. Mutai challenged his classmates to take on the world with “the strength of 10,000 men,” and he said the graduates “want to thank the village of Livingstone College for taking us in.”
On behalf of the graduates, too, he thanked classmates, family and faculty for “constantly cheering us on to higher goals.”
Mutai finished with a 3.941 grade-point average and headed summa cum laude (3.7-4.0 GPAs) graduates that included seven others: Ky’Isha Wright, Bryan Aycoth, Ashley McMasters, Kemba Brown, Momodu Taylor, Willie Givens and Rashida Elbourne.
Magna cum laude ( 3.5-3.699 GPAs) graduates were Ashton Language and Eugene Brown, and cum laude (3.3-3.499 GPAs) graduates were Janell John, Jametta Gilmore, Justin Johnson, Cody Paul, Reginald Keitt, Alison Turner, Eboni Veney and Shaquasia Marcelle.
Livingstone awarded four honorary doctorates Saturday. Recipients included Dortch; the Rev. Sandra K. Benton, the first female appointed as presiding elder in the AME Zion Church in South Carolina; the Rev. Jeffrey L. Cammon of Alabama and the Rev. George E. Kent of Los Angeles, both high-ranking members of the AME Zion Church.
Dortch serves as president and chairman of 100 Black Men Inc., which is based in Atlanta and promotes programs that support mentoring, education, health and wellness and economic development. He also is founding chairman of the National Cares Mentoring Movement and owns several businesses.
Dortch graduated from Fort Valley State University and has a master’s degree from Clark-Atlanta University. Both are historically black institutions, as is Livingstone, and Dortch said he believes in them.
All five of his children are graduates of historically black colleges. He also has set up bank accounts for his grandchildren, but the money is earmarked only for black colleges or universities, he said.
Dortch said the graduates are entering the work world during a time of economic challenges, but it’s not the first time America or the African-American race has faced hard times. He urged the graduates to get rid of the negative influences in their lives.
“An intelligent enemy is better than a stupid friend,” he said. “Watch the people around you.”
Dortch also warned them not to become enamored with titles or positions, and when they succeed, “bring others up with you.”
Jenkins, the college president, told the Class of 2012 to “go out and defy the odds.” They were taught at Livingstone “how not to reaffirm the stereotype,” Jenkins said. He encouraged the graduates to “command” their rightful place in the global society through professionalism, knowledge and skill.
Among the members of the Class of 1962 are Salisburians Hazel and William R. “Pete” Kennedy. Pete Kennedy is a longtime member of Salisbury City Council. He owns a real estate business and is a retired teacher and guidance counselor — all positions that relied on his business education at Livingstone College.
One of his classmates, Levander Lilly, took his Livingstone degree and eventually became a school superintendent in Brooklyn, N.Y.
Another school friend, George Richardson, parlayed his chemistry degree from Livingstone into a career as an environmental engineer in Chicago for one of the largest wastewater reclamation plants in the country.
“This education prepared me for greater things,” Richardson said. “It’s always exciting to come back to Livingstone.”
Coming next weekend:Reports from Catawba and Hood graduation ceremonies that take place Saturday.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.