Commencing for a Better America

commencement2013_729_293_725_291_720_289_710_285 It has been a tough year in many places in America–from the weather, political histrionics, financial losses, civil unrest, and tragic deaths.  We have been throttled by tornadoes, snowstorms, flooding, searing heat, droughts, and icy roads.  Political gridlocks have left us less than optimistic about the effectiveness of our government to improve the quality of life and potential of Americans and future generations.

Yet, as we enter commencement season at thousands of higher education institutions around the nation, there is a sense of cautious hope for our collective American futures.  As my husband and I, together with other family members, prepare to travel to Vermont, which is apparently just beginning to thaw out from the distinction of accumulating the most snowfall in 2015 in the Continental US, for our daughter’s commencement from Law School, we will be joining a small, but significant number of families who will be traveling to also applaud accomplishments of children, grandchildren, and relatives.  Like the other families who will gather to witness these commencements, we will share a sense of pride, relief, and optimism about the contributions these graduates can make to positive social action, to more effective governments, to numerous industries and agencies, and to global communities.

Even though I have attended more higher education commencements than I care to admit, I remember mostly the commencements of Winston-Salem State University and Cheyney University.  While the speakers and acknowledgements of my own commencements and those of my siblings have faded from my memory, the looks of elation, hope, and jubilation of the graduates of these two institutions seem to be permanently etched in my brain and my heart.IMG_0480

As I walked down the aisle with Reverend Jesse Jackson, Sr. at one commencement at Cheyney University, I watched the beaming faces of the families of those in attendance.  With a little over 250 students graduating, there were over 3,000 parents, family, friends, and well-wishers cheering the graduates on to commencing a new life of opportunities.  These family members filled the Historic Quad of Cheyney University and celebrated with the exuberance and intensity seen at joyful family reunions.

As the Honorable Reverend Jesse Jackson walked in the commencement ceremonial march, parents, family members, and significant others thanked him for participating in this significant event in the lives of their loved ones. And, of course, Reverend Jesse Jackson did not disappoint in his graduation address.  Moreover, as an added bonus, actor and musician Terrence Howard also participated in the same commencement activities and gave remarks, much to the positive approval of the graduating students and their guests.

This and other such commencements warmed my heart.  I understood the sacrifices of money and the hopes for a better life tied to these graduates.  My husband and I carry similar hopes and dreams for our daughter, but our sacrifices pale in comparison to those made by first generation parents and families.  We believe our daughter’s and significant numbers of other proud graduates’ accomplishments will prepare them to commence or begin to make the world a better place for us all–and it does not get much better than that in America!

So, to all who are graduating, Congratulations on your impressive accomplishments!

Graduates, we need your innovations, your contributions to global sustainability, your fresh insights, team work, and new ideas to strengthen America!

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The Land of the Free and the Home of the Brave

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So often,  like other Americans, I  have stood with my hand over my heart and sang the words of our national anthem placing special emphasis on the words “for the land of the Free and the home of the Brave.”

Also, undoubtedly,  though most of us stand proudly when we sing the “Star-Spangled Banner,” the song ushers forth a range of diverse emotions, dreams, and expectations in current day Americans  who have emerged, one way or another, from a nation that was built by diverse immigrants.  Fortunately or unfortunately, as a nation, we are still defining  “freedom” by the actions of millions of Americans.   Just what does it means to be “free” across America?

As I celebrate yet another birthday, I watch the developing millennial generation, and I imagine American in 2052.  I have definite hopes and dreams that we will truly build a nation that has implemented a definition of freedom that assumes caring about each other.  I hope we are building a nation of people who are courageous enough to fight for the tenets in which our nation was built.  I also hope we are building a nation that cares about the development of personal character and the well-being and security of the least of us.

Before you go there, I am not naïve.  Steeled by the broad shoulders of Chicago, where I was prepared for a “life of the mind” and nestled by the dreams of my southern, and depression era, mom–I think I see us for what we are.   I  see our possibilities for altruism, our potential  for more  innovation, and our genesis that could be employed to tackle the intractable problems that were once conceptualized by Nelson’s book, The Moon and the Ghetto (1977).

I guess that is why I enjoy higher education–especially I enjoyed participating in higher education at Cheyney University. The majority of the students who attend(ed) Cheyney University are first generation students who arrive on campus as survivors of K-12 systems that were not really designed with them in mind.  These students come to campus as immigrants to a new, broader, and more complex world with a depth and scope they could not imagine before arriving.  The transition into an academic environment that prepares for a more interdependent and broad-based global economic environment is daunting for many students–even those who come ready to work for the American dream.

What Cheyney University hopes to do through programs such as the University College, the Keystone Honors Academy, Athletics, Learning Communities, the Entrepreneur Leadership Institute, and STEM scholarships is to acclimate students through their affinities to a world of possibilities.  Moreover,  through student engagement activities which include leadership seminars, introduction to American s/heroes, the Arts and Culture lecture series, student internships, and mentoring options, Cheyney University hopes to transform its graduates into resilient Americans who will responsibly move forth with their hands over their hearts proudly representing the land of the free and the home of the brave.

Anything else is unacceptable!