RALEIGH — The crowd began gathering early for Shaw Universitys commencement Saturday. Many came with flowers, balloons and cameras for the solemn ceremony at the J.S. Dorton Arena at the N.C. State Fairgrounds.
People have come a long way to see this, said David Benjamin, who was waiting outside while his niece and other graduates filed in, wearing black caps and gowns.
By the numbers: Shaw awarded 301 undergraduate and graduate degrees and conferred an honorary doctorate on Gloria Bongi Ngema-Zuma, South Africas first lady, who was the commencement speaker.
As diplomas were handed out, nearly every seat in the 5,110-seat arena was filled. Friends and family stood in the aisles, craning their necks to see or take photos as the graduates walked to the stage.
Commencement address: Ngema-Zuma, who leads a foundation in South Africa that fights diabetes, delivered a message that linked health and prosperity. A healthy nation is a recipe for a successful economy, she said.
Special moment: Members of the Class of 1964 celebrated the 50th anniversary of their graduation.
Whats ahead: Gerald Kennedy said he had been working toward his degree in business administration for 10 years. Now he is looking forward to opening his own auto detailing business. Its a new land of opportunity, said Kennedy, originally from Greensboro. He also will strive to turn a job coaching football at Shaw into a full-time position.
Before the end of the ceremony, senior class president Athena Curry addressed her Class of 2014 and urged the graduates to stay true to their school. Its up to us to remember where we come from, she said. Its up to us to give back.
Traditions: Graduates at Shaw, a 149-year-old school that was the first historically black college in the South, wear hoods draped over their shoulders with colors that signify their majors. White, which stands for humanities, and citron, for social work, were much in evidence Saturday.