Livingstone College

Livingstone Commencement 2015

By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service

SALISBURY, N.C. – It’s not how you start that’s important. It’s how you finish that truly matters.

And that’s what Congresswoman Alma S. Adams wanted Livingstone College graduates to know when she delivered their commencement address on May 2.

In a powerful speech that was peppered with applause, Adams, who represents North Carolina’s 12th Congressional District, said she grew up in the ghettos of Newark, N.J., and wasn’t quite prepared for college work when she arrived at North Carolina Agricultural and Technical State University.

“A&T made an investment in me,” Adams told the nearly 160 graduates inside Alumni Memorial Stadium. “As you prepare to walk, know and always remember that Livingstone took you where it found you and got you where you needed to be. During my first year in college I had to take some remedial courses. Where you start in life doesn’t determine where you end up. Only you can determine your destiny.”

Adams earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees in art education from A&T in 1969 and 1972, respectively, and her Ph.D. in art education and multicultural education from The Ohio State University in 1981.

“I was able to go to The Ohio State University because of N.C. A&T,” Adams said to thunderous applause. “An HBCU took all of us where we were, and they shaped and they molded us into what they knew we could become. Graduates, sometimes you just need a chance. You just need an opportunity. But always remember how you got over. Had it not been for the Lord on your side, and had it not been for preparation meeting opportunity, you would not have made it this far.”

Adams, who taught art history at Bennett College for Women for 40 years, commended Livingstone’s graduates for their success.

“As you climb Jacob’s ladder, your responsibility is to bring somebody else along,” she said. “The weight is now largely on your shoulders to make the right decisions…Your time of transition is today. Seize the opportunity. Over the past decade, we’ve experienced the largest intergenerational transfer of wealth. It’s all about power. You don’t ask somebody how you get it or if you can have it. You take it.”

African-Americans have made great strides nationally, but much is left to do, Adams cautioned.

“Obama’s election sent a powerful message to our nation that we’re no longer invisible,” she said. “He was prepared to seize the opportunity. It’s not what they call you. It’s what you answer to. I grew up poor, but my mother always instilled in me that ignorance was not an option.

“You’ve been prepared for this global economy, so take your knowledge to the workforce,” Adams continued. “Build on what you don’t know and what you need to know. And as you leave this institution, know that service is the rent we pay for living on this earth.”

Adams ended her address by borrowing from Invictus: “Blue Bears, always be able to say, ‘I am the master of my fate. I am the captain of my soul.’ ”

Before degrees were conferred, Adams, the Rev. Jermaine B. Armour, Henry Edward Jackson, the Rev. Otha Lee Smith and Dabney N. Montgomery were given honorary doctorates.

Armour is pastor of Saint Luke African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church in Wilmington, N.C., Jackson taught at Livingstone for 50 years before retiring and Smith is pastor of Brown’s Chapel AME Zion Church in Lowrys, S.C.

Montgomery, a 1949 graduate of Livingstone and a member of Mother AME Zion Church in Harlem, N.Y, where he resides, is a Tuskegee Airman. In 2007, he was given the Congressional Gold Medal of Honor by then-President George W. Bush. In March 1965, he served as one of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s bodyguards during his historic march from Selma, Ala., to Montgomery, Ala.

Early in the program, Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., Senior Bishop in the AME Zion Church and Chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees, gave remarks.

“Nobody can write our story like we can, and so we expect this class to lead us into greater heights,” Battle said. “You might have gotten here on broken pieces, but today you’re graduating and to God be the glory.”

Dr. Wyndham Whynot, president of the Faculty Assembly, Tre’ D. Holmes, Student Government Association president, and Solomon Larbi, 2015 Valedictorian, also gave remarks.

“Thank you class of 2015 for not giving up,” Larbi said. “We made it! We Livingstonians have fought the good fight, and now our good fight continues in the real world, where we need to command our rightful place in the global society.”

Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. presided over the commencement exercises. Minutes before it ended, he reminded the graduates that little decisions net big results and encouraged them to make good decisions.

He also told them their degree gets them in the door – but the rest is up to them.

“Go forth and represent this institution well,” Jenkins said. “And remember, the race isn’t given to the swift nor the strong but he that endureth till the end. I challenge you to endure to the end.”

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