Livingstone College president to Benedict graduates: Know where you are going

Published 12:00 am Thursday, December 19, 2013

COLUMBIA, S.C. – Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. challenged Benedict College graduates to determine where they’re going in a Dec. 14 commencement speech that was peppered with applause and apparently resonated with the audience.
“Far too often people end up in places they didn’t intend to be because they couldn’t decide where they were going,” Jenkins told 125 graduates assembled in The Benjamin E. Mays Human Resources Center Arena. “And how can you know where you’re going if you don’t know where you’ve come from? You’ve got to know where you’ve come from in order to know where you’re going.”
Jenkins spoke at the Winter Commencement Convocation at the invitation of his friend and colleague, Benedict College President Dr. David H. Swinton. After his speech, Jenkins was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters.
He began his remarks by joking that the nice introduction by Benedict Student Government Association President Whitney Martin might change his wife’s perception of him, to which the audience laughed. Then Jenkins said when he asked Swinton what he should talk about, Swinton replied, “about 15 minutes.”
But make no mistake about it. Jenkins had a serious message and some sage advice to impart to the graduates.
“I know right now there is jubilation in this room,” Jenkins said. “There is excitement in this room. And for some of you there is anxiety in this room because you can’t believe, yet, that you pulled this thing off and you won’t relax until your name’s called and you’re handed that diploma. For others you just want to get this over so that you can go to a celebration and party with your family and friends. But after the dust settles and the euphoria of this ceremony subsides, the serious question you must pose to yourself is where do I go from here.”
Jenkins, who’s been a college president or chancellor for about 30 years and has had an illustrious career, told the students how vitally important it is to never take education for granted. He reminded them that during slavery it was against the law for anyone to teach slaves how to read or write and that doing so could result in a fine or death.
“After the Emancipation Proclamation of 1865 the children of just-freed slaves were prohibited from enrolling in classes … and eventually black colleges were established. Education is the surest vehicle for upward mobility in the world.”
Jenkins’ wife, Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins, and Swinton’s wife, Patricia L. Swinton, both accomplished educators, sat together and listened as Jenkins heralded Swinton as a trailblazer and visionary leader who has devised unique ways to improve education for Benedict students.
“Dr. Swinton understood clearly what Einstein meant when he said a fool keeps doing things the same way and expecting to get different results,” Jenkins said. “If you connect the dots you know this is a mission. The mission of HBCUs is to take our students where they are and take them where they need to be so they can command their rightful place in the global society. I used the word command not demand because if you’re properly equipped, have the confidence and know where you’re going you’ll exude an aura and the world will step aside and let you go where you’re going.”
That remark and several others by Jenkins drew applause inside the packed arena.
“You must remember it’s the little decisions that you make that bring about big results,” Jenkins said. “The little decision you made not to play cards all night but to get your rest so you could be punctual for your 8 o’clock class. The little decision you made to do your own term paper and not plagiarize somebody else’s work. The little decision you made to go to the library and study when others decided they were going to go to the student union and party.
“All of those little decisions that you made or did not make, or that you made in the positive or that you made in the negative culminated in this day right now, this day where you sit before us prepared to take your rightful place and get your diploma,” Jenkins continued to heavy applause. “And depending on those little decisions that you made you’re going to get those diplomas summa cum laude, some of you are going to get them magna cum laude, some of you are going to get them cum laude and some of you are going to get them oh, Lawdy. But you’re still going to get them.”
Jenkins encouraged the graduates not to reaffirm the stereotypes but instead to defy the odds – a mantra at Livingstone College.
“Remember what Thomas Jefferson said,” Jenkins said. “A nation that expects to be ignorant and free in a state of civilization expects what never was and never will be. I challenge you this morning to go forth as strong soldiers against ignorance. Make sure you start a new war of fair representation so your children and grandchildren will understand what it meant for you to be at Benedict. I congratulate you this morning, and I look forward to what you’re going to do in society.”
Before Jenkins spoke, Swinton thanked the graduates’ parents for entrusting their children to Benedict College, and he told the graduates they were realizing the culmination of their hard work, accomplishments and disappointments and they would become powers of good in society.
Minutes after Jenkins finished his speech and took his seat, he was summoned back to the podium where he was hooded and awarded an honorary doctorate. Benedict officials lauded Jenkins for having served as Chancellor of his alma mater, Elizabeth City State University, and as president of Edward Waters College in Jacksonville, Fla., before assuming the top administrative post at Livingstone College in 2006.
“You are indeed the accomplished turnaround artist who has served as a power for good at various HBCUs,” it was read about Jenkins. “For your notable accomplishments, Benedict College is pleased to welcome you into its distinguished family of honorary degree recipients.”
During the graduation, degrees were awarded posthumously to the relatives of Kaseem Brown, a mass communication major, and Quran Lucas, a computer science major. Also, Bethel W. Tarekegne, an electrical engineering major from Awassa, Ethiopia, was named the outstanding senior in the December class.
Graduate Olajuwon Sims, 23, a mass communication major from Marion, Ohio, who aspires to obtain a job scoring films, said he enjoyed the commencement exercises and Jenkins’ speech.
“I thought Dr. Jenkins’ speech was good,” Sims said. “He went over the core values of our obligation to push the human race forward.”