Hundreds of Shaw University graduates and thousands of their relatives and friends gathered Saturday morning to celebrate accomplishments and look toward the future.
For Shaw, too, the commencement at the Raleigh Convention Center was a time to recognize achievements – this year is the 150th anniversary of the oldest historically black university in the South.
The university that was founded only days after the ratification of the 13th amendment abolishing slavery has produced thousands of graduates who have enriched the nation, said U.S. Rep. G.K. Butterfield, a Wilson Democrat who delivered the commencement address. The community owes a debt of gratitude for African-American leaders and professionals educated at Shaw, he said. “I stand on their shoulders, my generation stands on their shoulders, and guess what?” he told graduates. “You stand on their shoulders.”
Family and friends came from near and far to congratulate the 260 graduates. Chalika Ruiz traveled from New York to see her brother David Jordan of Maryland receive a degree in computer applications and software development. Their younger brother, Jerrel Jordan, also is a student at Shaw.
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Amid the solemn ceremonies of processions and hooding, whoops of joy and cries of “Hallelujah!” and “You did it!” broke out.
Camillia Henry of Chapel Hill kept calm but acknowledged the excitement of the moment. “Going to school and getting a degree was well worth it,” she said. She earned a bachelor of science in exercise science and plans to look for a job in physical therapy in Durham.
The private, nondenominational school awarded 30 master’s degrees in science, education and divinity.
Shawn Harrison, an associate minister at Shiloh Baptist Church in Greensboro who was receiving a master’s of divinity, said his work at Shaw had been tough but rewarding. “I learned quite a lot,” he said. “They challenge you in character development and growth.” Harrison, of Reidsville, is considering pursuing a doctorate at Emory University.
Student leader Miriam Young urged classmates to defend the legacies of historically black colleges and universities. “We all matter – don’t let them tell you otherwise,” said Young, who served as Miss Shaw University. “Black lives matter.”