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Proud parents cheer on grads

  • Saturday, December 18, 2010

    UMES tassel-turners urged to 'aspire to transform the world'

    By  Deborah Gates • Daily Times Staff Writer • December 18, 2010

    PRINCESS ANNE -- Graduates at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore on Friday were a record number for a winter commencement, the majority of them hailing from Maryland's Lower Shore. They heard from a White House expert on HBCUs who challenged them to "help transform the world" and "to believe."

    Gauging (from the) thunderous applause from the 341 students who turned tassels at the 14th winter commencement held on the UMES campus, they intend to.

    "Stand tall through it all -- that's my philosophy," said David L. James-White, a 21-year-old Newark, N.J., native after receiving an undergraduate diploma in business administration. "I had academic issues and financial issues in the beginning, and I wasn't focused. But I started to realize that people had invested too much in me for me to mess around. Now I believe I can concur all with the Lord."

    (John S.) Wilson, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities, reminded graduates that Nelson Mandela, who became president of South Africa and was instrumental in negotiations that ended legal racial segregation in his country, survived 27 years in prison, four of which were spent in solitary confinement.

    "What kept you strong?" Wilson had asked Mandela.

    "I believe," Mandela replied.

    "We need you to aspire to transform the world, but most of all, we need you to believe," Wilson told graduates.

    The 226 graduates from the Lower Shore made up 66 percent of the group. They included Phylicia Y. Gibbs, 22, of Bishopville and a graduate of Stephen Decatur High School.

    She, too, is a believer. One of three children raised by a single mom, Gibbs divided her time between college studies and as president of the campus chapter of Habitat for Humanity, and graduated cum laude with a 3.41 grade point average. She majored in mathematics.

    "I won't have a problem finding a job -- I believe," said Gibbs, who plans to embark on a journey toward an advanced degree and a career as a math teacher. "Math teachers are in demand, especially among minority students. If I didn't believe, I wouldn't have made it these four years."

    The number of diplomas awarded Friday was up by nearly 100 over the estimated 246 at the 13th winter ceremony a year earlier, according to university officials. The number of mid-year graduates also nearly matched the 447 students awarded diplomas at the traditional spring commencement last May. Of those, 82 were from the Lower Shore, while 280 were from communities throughout Maryland.

    UMES President Thelma Thompson called the occasion the "beginning of a new and exciting phase in your lives," and urged graduates to not only move forward with their successes but to reach back with a hand of support of their alma mater.

    "You have reached an important milestone in your lives today," Thompson told graduates. "Remember to give back to your family, your community and certainly  give back to the University of Maryland Eastern Shore."

    Thompson awarded honorary degrees to three outstanding national figures:

    • Jeanette L. Brown, director of the Office of
      Small Business Programs at the U.S.
      Environmental Protection Agency that under
      her leadership recently was named one of the
      most successful in the federal government.
    • Thomas Wesley Dortch Jr., a chairman of the
      100 Black Men of America Inc., and chairman
      and chief executive officer at TWD Inc., a
      business development, public relations and
      fundraising firm in Atlanta.
    • Renee Powell, a professional golfer who
      picked up her first club at age 3, and is now
      the second African-American woman to play
      on the Ladies Professional Golf Association

    Keynote speaker Wilson, to whom Thompson awarded the distinguished Presidential Medal, told his audience that the occasion marked the 16th time this year alone that a representative in the Obama administration has addressed an HBCU commencement, a reflection of the administration's support of historically black institutions.

    "There are supporters like never before in Washington," Wilson said, and brought greetings from the president and U.S. Secretary of Education Arne Duncan. "President Obama and Secretary Duncan join me in congratulating this graduating class," the speaker said.


    This article reproduced with permission from The (Salisbury, MD) Daily Times.