Graduates of St. Augustine’s University, both current and past, celebrated each other on Saturday in Raleigh.
Just as the 220 candidates in the 2015 graduating class cheered for one another, so did their predecessors from the Class of 1965.
It’s a St. Augustine’s tradition to honor both the current graduating class and the one from 50 years ago each May. Family and friends packed the university’s grassy quadrangle under sunny skies to laud this year’s group of candidates.
Class of 2015 president Jill Ricks said she and her peers have earned the right to celebrate. They’ve spent years working toward commencement, she said, and stuck it out through hard times.
“When we thought we would not make it, we did,” Ricks said. “And we survived our stay.”
During her speech to her classmates, Ricks delivered a personal message that embodied the tight-knit community at St. Augustine’s, where about 1,100 undergraduates are enrolled. Ricks mentioned students by name, including Shaquitta Clark, who will attend Emory University after being accepted to 11 law schools.
“As we progress in our lives as professionals, let us not forget to help each other,” Ricks said.
Members of the Class of ’65 showed at the commencement ceremony that they’ve kept close. As they marched in behind the current class, old roommates and friends horsed around and told stories and jokes.
“Congratulations, young man!” Adrian Dixon told ’65 graduate James Ashton. Dixon, from the Class of 1964, said he knew Ashton and many of the other ’65 graduates.
“Well thank you very much, sir,” Ashton answered with a smile.
After the current graduates received their diplomas, the 50th anniversary alumni rose to get honorary awards.
George Williams, St. Augustine’s longtime track coach from the Class of ’65, received a standing ovation as he walked across the stage.
Since 1976, Williams has led the university’s track teams to more than 30 national championships, with his scholarship athletes amassing a 95 percent graduation rate along the way. Williams’ accomplishments were highlighted in 2004, when he was picked to coach the U.S. Men’s Olympic Track and Field Team in Athens.
Congressman Bobby Scott of Virginia addressed both classes during his commencement speech.
Scott, who said his mother’s family is from Raleigh, reminded the current graduates of the hard work that got them to graduation day: studying instead of watching “House of Cards” and meeting with a professor instead of sending out a stream of tweets “with the perfect hashtag.”
“In that regard, if you are tweeting right now instead of listening to me, you can follow me @RepBobbyScott,” he joked.
Scott encouraged the graduates to take the same determination they used to get their degrees into the professional world. He said educated Americans like the graduates at St. Augustine’s are the key to making progress on high-profile political issues such as cyber warfare and global warming.
Educated voters are also important to make sure the right people get elected, Scott said.
St. Augustine’s President Everett Ward said the 2015 commencement was special for him, as it’s his first as president. The university’s board of trustees appointed Ward to the post in April about one year after he took over as interim leader.
Several of the commencement speakers credited Ward for his leadership over the past year and bringing stability to the university. Ward replaced Dianne Suber, who was ousted by the board of trustees in April 2014 after the university came under scrutiny by auditors, its accrediting agency and the federal Department of Education.
Ward urged the graduates to never forget their responsibility to serve and to help others get a college education.
Ward left them with a quote from St. Augustine’s Alma Mater, charging them to be courageous and to do the “right thing.”
“Always remember there is no substitute for always doing right,” he said.
Dunn: 919-553-7234, Ext. 104.