Livingstone College graduates celebrate ‘crossing the finish line’ during commencement celebration

Published 12:09 am Sunday, May 16, 2021

SALISBURY — Cheered on by spirited applause from their families and classmates, 88 Livingstone College graduates walked across the stage at Alumni Memorial Stadium on Saturday morning and received their degrees.

The college’s 139th annual in-person commencement ceremony included 83 graduates from the class of 2021 and five graduates from the class 2020, who were invited to participate in this year’s graduation after last year’s in-person event was canceled due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Livingstone College President Jimmy Jenkins congratulated students on their journey to get to graduation, which included forging through the pandemic.

“To put it conservatively, COVID forced you and the rest of us to pivot to a new normal,” Jenkins said. “Yet you are here. You have preserved. You are crossing the finish line.”

Jenkins’ message to graduates was one of many throughout the celebratory ceremony that focused on themes of determination.

Akeem Crittington, who graduated on Saturday with a degree in early childhood education, said he was relieved and excited when he heard the college’s commencement would be an in-person event.

“I was scared because I definitely wanted to walk,” Crittington said.

The college started planning in earnest for a physical commencement ceremony after Easter. Anthony Davis, senior vice president and chief operating officer, credited Jenkins with having the vision for hosting a physical graduation.

“We’ve been planning for about two months, but we couldn’t make the formal announcement until we paid attention to the science, took a look at spikes and surges,” said Davis, who was also charged with leading the college’s COVID-19 task force. “Once we came out of the woods after Easter break we thought it was safe to bring our students, parents, faculty and everyone together for an in-person commencement ceremony.”

There were about 1,200 people in attendance for the graduation, Davis said, spread out on both sides of Alumni Memorial Stadium and throughout campus.

Livingstone College tested commencement participants last week for COVID-19. The school notified each participant of their negative test results on Friday, giving them the green light to participate in Saturday’s festivities. Knowing his classmates sitting next to him in the ceremony tested negative for COVID-19 was comforting, Crittington said.

“We got results back saying that everybody graduating was negative, so I was very happy about that,” Crittington said. “I was like ‘Yes, I can sit closer to you.’ ”

The lively commencement featured a long list of in-person and pre-recorded guest speakers, including faculty members, students and religious leaders.

Carlee Patterson, salutatorian and 2020-2021 Student Government Association president, delivered a speech to the gathered graduates in which she praised her classmates. 

“Today you stand in front of me, friends, family, mentors and faithful administrators as you take your last breath as an undergraduate Blue Bear, defying the odds,” Patterson said. “The odds of being one of many colleges to attend face-to-face classes, the odds of finishing your community service COVID-free and the odds that society counted you out of: graduating.”

In a pre-recorded message shown on video boards, Valedictorian Evan Winters gave his classmates his words of wisdom.

“It is often said that the college experience is the highlight of a person’s life, so my final advice to you would be to take these experiences we’ve had and make the most of them,” Winters said. “Work hard, but enjoy yourself as well. Find a balance of the two lifestyles that’s successful for you. You have not been defined by what you’ve learned in class; rather, how you’ve prepared yourself for the future. For us, that future is now.”

The commencement address was delivered by Da’ud “King” Carter. The Charlotte-born music producer, who is the CEO of Social Currency Enterprises and executive vice president of South Coast Music Group, rose to prominence by managing the rapper DaBaby.

Jenkins said it was fitting the school hosted Carter as its commencement speaker, since Carter pivoted from making his own music to managing another artist, similar to how Livingstone’s students were forced to pivot during the pandemic.

During his speech, Carter spoke about the adversity he faced in his own life, including dropping out of high school and the struggles of trying to climb the ladder in the music industry. Carter relayed tales of sleeping in his car, traveling throughout the region performing free shows and how the death of a friend and music producer changed his trajectory. 

Carter commended Livingstone’s graduates for showing a similar persistence to himself by graduating during a pandemic.

“We are one in the same,” Carter said. “We know what it’s like to persevere despite the unimaginable. Who could’ve known that a global pandemic was going to happen. Who could’ve known that things would happen to affect and impact our day-to-day lives, from mask mandates to social distancing policies. After one complete year of quarantine, I think it’s fair to say we endured. Even with these unprecedented hiccups on this road to success, we can’t cheat the grind. We had to adjust.”

Crittington said he was happy the college brought in a speaker who was relatable to graduates.

After his commencement address, Carter was awarded an honorary doctorate from Livingstone.

Once the class of 2021 and 2020 received their degrees, Livingstone honored members of the college’s 1970 and 1971 graduating classes on their 50th anniversary. Called “Golden Graduates,” the members of the class wore brilliant gold robes during the ceremony.

Editor’s Note: This story has been updated since its original publication to correct an error. The story now correctly states that Livingstone College’s 88 graduates received degrees during the commencement ceremony Saturday. The Post apologizes for this error.

About Ben Stansell

Ben Stansell covers business, county government and more for the Salisbury Post. He joined the staff in August 2020 after graduating from the University of Alabama. Email him at ben.stansell@salisburypost.com.

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