Livingstone College graduates take flight

Published 12:00 am Sunday, May 4, 2014

SALISBURY — Valedictorian Shari Albury told her fellow Livingstone College seniors Saturday their graduation was like boarding and flying on a passenger plane.
By graduating, they’ve arrived on time. They have their boarding pass. They’re trying to leave baggage behind, and though they don’t know exactly where they might be headed, they had better fasten their seat belts.
“There will be turbulence, but you will get there,” Albury said.
Livingstone College graduated 156 seniors Saturday in the school’s 132nd commencement, officially kicking off college and high school graduation season in Rowan County.
Alumni Stadium’s visiting side was filled with family and friends of the graduates, and the overflow crowd poured onto the track.
“God likes us at Livingstone,” said Bishop George E. Battle Jr., senior bishop of the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and chairman of the college’s board of trustees.
“Look at this beautiful day, and look at one of the largest graduating classes we have ever had.”
Albury carried through on her passenger-plane metaphor, urging her classmates to let God be their copilot. He will take them through storms and to places they didn’t know they could go, Albury promised, and land them safe at their destination.
And when they are on the ground at a new place in their lives, Albury added, the graduates need to send a message back to the people who made it possible — their family, church members and Livingstone College’s faculty and administration.
“Don’t forget them,” Albury said. “Don’t forget Livingstone College.”
She said it was time to board the aircraft of life.
Albury came to Livingstone from her native Bahamas, and she reflected an almost cosmopolitan graduating class at Livingstone. The seniors represented cities such as Los Angeles, Detroit, Chicago, New York, Boston, Philadelphia and Washington, D.C.
But there also was a strong North Carolina connection — 72 graduates, or almost half the Class of 2014, were from North Carolina.
On a more local note, eight of the graduates were from Rowan County: Eboni Elm, Thomas Demetrius Grant, Juan M. Neely, Donna Cuthbertson, Candace N. Fleming and George M. McGee, all of Salisbury; Adrianne N. Wylie of Granite Quarry; and Dewayne Ryan Smith of Cleveland.
In addition, Delando A. Clowney of Kannapolis, Steven A. Branch Jr. of Albemarle and Franklin A. Evans Jr. and Shaqwetta Antywnette Mcbryde, both of Concord, were among the graduates.
As always Livingstone gave special recognition to its Golden Graduates — alumni from 50 years ago. The Class of 1964 had 48 people show up for a Thursday reception, Friday luncheon and Saturday’s graduation, to which they wore golden caps and gowns.
Five of the Golden Graduates live in Salisbury: Charles W. Davis, Sarah Stout Lightner, Mary Moss Miller, Kay Wright Norman and Dr. Bryant Norman. Jr.
The Normans met at Livingstone.
Julius E. and Selma Webber Suiter of Mocksville also were part of the Class of 1964.
The Golden Graduates walked across the stage during the graduation ceremony to receive framed, diploma-like certificates marking their 50 years as Livingstone alumni.
They also wore personalized gold medallions, which they were able to keep along with the caps and gowns.
Livingstone College conferred five honorary degrees, which were awarded to guest speaker Jocelyn Frye, senior fellow of the Center for American Progress; Dorothy Colson, former trustee and president of the National Alumni Association; the Rev. Vernon Shannon, former trustee and pastor of John Wesley AME Zion in Washington; Dr. G. Ray Coleman, pastor of St. Mark AME Zion in Durham; and Larry D. Melton, former trustee and president of L.D. Melton Financial Services.
Coleman also is a member of the Class of 1964.
As for the undergraduates, Livingstone recognized eight bachelor degree candidates who graduated summa cum laude; six, magna cum laude; and 12, cum laude.
Frye, whose work focuses on a wide range of women’s issues such as work and family balance, pay equity and leadership, gave an inspiring address of 19 minutes.
She noted the graduates were at the start of a new chapter in their lives. “What gets written,” she said, “is in your hands.”
Frye previously served four years as deputy assistant to President Obama and director of policy and special projects for First Lady Michelle Obama.
She said the irony of college graduation is that for a few days the graduates find themselves on top, but they soon must start over from the bottom, confronting a whole new world and set of people who will challenge their experience and fortitude.
Frye urged them to embrace stepping out of their comfort zones and never allow themselves to be confined by someone else’s narrow points of view.
Frye also asked the graduates to carry their history with them at all times and learn from it. Some people they meet will suggest the country is past race, but they will find that is not true, Frye said.
The graduates must not be afraid to talk about issues that make others uncomfortable, she said.
“You will be needed more than ever,” Frye added. “When you engage, bring your history with you.”
The Golden Graduates definitely brought their history with them. As they waited for the graduation ceremony to begin, Clara Benjamin Neal, now of Mitchellville, Md., and James L. Turner of Charlotte, remembered some of the civil rights protest marches they participated in as Livingstone students in the early 1960s.
But most of their memories were about instructors and classmates.
“Livingstone has always been like a family,” said Neal, an English major who went on to a career in teaching and library science. She parlayed her Livingstone undergraduate degree into a master’s degree at Bowie State University in Maryland.
Livingstone furnished a small, caring environment for a naive young woman such as her who came from South Carolina, Neal said.
“The main thing I remember is you could walk right into the president’s office,” she said.
A large group of Livingstone alumni live in the D.C.-Maryland-Virginia area, and the alumni chapter there remains active, Neal said.
Turner said Livingstone professors cared for their students and built individual tutoring time into their schedules.
As a music major, Turner participated in the orchestra, band and chorus. He went on to teach music before becoming a school administrator.
Like many Livingstone alumni, Turner has returned to Livingstone often, especially for football games against Johnson C. Smith University.
Mary Moss Miller grew up in Rowan County and attended Dunbar High in East Spencer before going to Livingstone in the early 1960s. Her parents thought it would be a good idea for her to live on campus at least two years, to become part of the dorm life and social framework at the school.
Miller said being with all her former classmates again over the past several days was unbelievable and filled her with emotion.
“It’s a very rewarding thing,” she said. “You have a lot to catch up on, and you can’t do it in two days.”
Miller hadn’t seen some of her college friends in 50 years. After school, Miller spent a year with VISTA, a domestic kind of Peace Corps. She worked 19 years with the Community Action Agency and later became a day-care director.
Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Jr. left the 2014 graduates with this:
“Getting knocked down doesn’t count,” he said. “Getting up does. Keep getting up.”
Hearing those words, many of the Golden Graduates nodded their heads.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263.