DURHAM — N.C. Central University graduates donned black and maroon, jumped up and down with excitement and mugged for video cameras on Saturday, but they also received an urgent message to act in the world.
The pressure is on: Commencement speaker the Rev. William Barber, president of the North Carolina NAACP and an NCCU alumnus, beseeched the graduates to be aware of the importance of their lives and realize their purpose.
“In this moment, the soul of our state and the soul of our nation are on trial,” Barber said. “You are the hope.”
Number of graduates: 577
Full turnout: By 8 a.m. Saturday at the O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium at NCCU, the bleachers were filled with about 4,000 relatives who came to cheer the graduates. There were so many that the university ran out of programs.
Alphabet sermon: Barber launched into an ABCs of life that brought the entire stadium to its feet. Some choice letters: ‘N’ is for “Never say never.” ‘Q’ is for “Quit quitting.” ‘S’ is for “Stand for something or you’ll fall for anything.” What is Z? ‘Z’ is “God knows your zip code.”
“Here you are, alive in this moment,” he added. “There is a God who always needs to raise up a counter to injustice.”
Harriet Tubman didn’t have an iPhone: “Maybe God is counting on you, class of 2012,” Barber said. “Maybe he sees the best in you. You’re not a lost generation. You’re not the X generation. You’re the generation that is more equipped with tools than any generation ever before. Harriet Tubman, she freed 500 slaves. She didn’t have iPod, iPhone. She didn’t have Facebook, email. All she had was moss on the north side of a tree, a north star in the middle of the night.”
The class of 2012 definitely has iPhones: Many graduates had their phones out during the ceremony, tweeting, texting, taking pictures.
A beloved class: The support of relatives and even strangers for the graduates was plainly on display.
Cheryl Gill, who came to cheer on her cousin, Thomas Cozzi, congratulated each graduate who passed by after the ceremony.
Sheila Singleton and relatives carried posters for her daughter, Deirdre Brooks, who studied history. The family traveled from Richmond, Va., on a 57-person bus, and picked up relatives in Baltimore and Durham.
“There have been hard economic times before, just with different challenges,” Singleton said. “With hard work, dreams can be accomplished.”
Keep working: Corey Harris, 23, graduated with a degree in criminal justice and said Barber’s speech gave him motivation to keep working hard. Like many other graduates this year, he maintains an attitude of acceptance toward the current state of the world.
“Things happen in life. Some things, you can control. Some things, you can’t,” Harris said. “This generation of young people is a good generation. We’re going to take the world in a positive direction.”