The ceremony: 7:40 a.m., O'Kelley-Riddick Stadium, Durham.
Number of graduates: 962, receiving 538 undergraduate and 424 graduate degrees.
Main speaker: John Lewis, Democratic congressman from Georgia and a civil rights leader.
What he said: Lewis talked about his time as a Freedom Rider, traveling across the South of the 1960s, challenging segregation at bus terminals. He suffered beatings by angry mobs and numerous arrests.
In 1965, he led 600 peaceful protesters across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma, Ala., intending to march 50 miles to the capital of Montgomery to demonstrate the need for voting rights in the state. At the far end of the bridge, 200 Alabama state troopers brutally attacked the marchers. The worldwide news coverage of the confrontation is widely credited with spurring President Lyndon Johnson to push for passage of the Voting Rights Act, which became law that year.
Lewis grew up in rural Alabama, and he recalled how when he visited Montgomery and Birmingham as a young child, he would see the segregated waiting rooms and restrooms. When he asked about the separate facilities, he said, he was told, "That's the way it is. Don't get in the way. Don't get into trouble."
"Well, I got in the way," he said. "I got in trouble. It was good trouble. It was necessary trouble."
And he urged the new graduates of the historically black university to get in the way and make trouble when necessary. "It is your time to lead," he said. "It is your time to get in the way. It is your time to make a way where there is no way."
No rain: Despite clouds overhead and a forecast for a wet Saturday, the rain did not come, and the ceremony was held outdoors, where the 10,000-capacity O'Kelley-Riddick stadium was full. The sun even poked out of the clouds for a few minutes.
Splitting up: This year for the first time at NCCU, the university held a separate graduate and professional school graduation program on Friday in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.
Achievement recognized: In his welcome, Chancellor Charlie Nelms recognized three students for their outstanding achievements:
Kirkland Wilson, who graduated summa cum laude with a double major in biology and chemistry, and who will continue his studies at Case-Western Reserve University, where he has been accepted into the joint M.D.-Ph.D. program;
Lerson Clarke, a licensed pilot who decided to go in a different career direction after the Sept. 11, 2001, attacks. He worked long hours at Raleigh-Durham International Airport as a student and still managed to graduate magna cum laude in business administration.
Margie K. Parker, who, despite running a successful family business in Kernersville, decided in her 50s to return to college for a career change. After receiving her associate's degree from Forsythe Technical Community College, she was recruited by NCCU's Biomanufacturing Research Institute and Technology Enterprise. She graduated from NCCU with a 4.0 grade point average.
Twin successes: Identical twins Tierra and Timberly Butler of Roseboro graduated together Saturday, holding hands as they approached the stage. Both were summa cum laude graduates in biology. Timberly Butler plans to go to medical school, and Tierra Butler to pharmacy school.
They applied to all the same colleges. "Central was the only school where we both got full scholarships," Timberly Butler said. They did not share all their activities, they said. Tierra pledged Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, but Timberly dedicated her time to being cheerleading captain.
Meaningful accessories: Many graduates added some color to their black gowns with sashes representing significant extracurricular activities such as fraternities and sororities or athletics.
Final word: In his charge to graduates, Nelms made reference to the work this class did in the 2008 election that contributed to Barack Obama becoming the first black president.