Common tells WSSU graduates: ‘Depart to serve’

Common tells WSSU graduates: ‘Depart to serve’
May 21
00:00 2015
Common delivers the commencement address at the Winston-Salem State University graduation in Bowman Gray Stadium, Friday, May 15. (Photo by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle)

Common delivers the commencement address at the Winston-Salem State University graduation in Bowman Gray Stadium, Friday, May 15.
(Photo by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle)

In photo above: Kenny Brown, WSSU student government vice president of external affairs, graduates from Winston-Salem State University on Friday, May 15 at Bowman Gray Stadium with a bachelor’s degree in political science and a concentration in public administration. (Photo by Erin Mizelle for the Winston-Salem Chronicle)

Winston-Salem State University’s 2015 graduating class of roughly 1,000 undergraduate and graduate students listened closely as they were encouraged to find, believe in and live their paths by Grammy-award winner Common as they embark on their next adventure.

More than 12,000 people filled Bowman Gray Stadium Friday morning, May 15, despite the threat of rain, to see their children, mothers, brothers, sisters, fathers and friends cross the finish line of their academic journey.
Austin Parks, 21, was in line with his brothers, although not familial, as they anxiously waited to march into the stadium. Parks, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha fraternity, said he was excited to be graduating with a bachelor’s degree in Sports Management.

“I’m ready to go make the big dollar signs, eventually,” he said, adjusting his tie. “I’m going to go get my law degree before eventually becoming a sports agent.”

A calm Jasmine May, 21, stood in the rear of the line patiently waiting to receive her degree.
“I’m very, very excited. Sometimes the road got tough, but we made it,” she said.

The clinical lab science major is not quite done with school yet.

“I’m going to graduate school at UNC-Greensboro in the fall.”

Common, the 2015 commencement speaker, told graduates that they should give themselves purpose, be great at it and make sure that it’s for them and it impacts someone or something.

“”What are you willing to die for? Live for that.’ These are the words that were spoken to us on the first day of rehearsal of ‘Selma’ by Ambassador Andrew Young. These words resonated with me and I went home from that rehearsal and thought about that. I found out that I’m willing to die for what I believe in and my creator. So I thought, that’s what I should live for,” he said. “When you reach the highest potential, or greatness, within yourself, you inspire others to do the same. To reach that greatness, you have to find your path, believe in your path and live your path.”

He went on to give graduates examples from his path, including Little League basketball, when he first began rapping, his break-up from Erykah Badu, the death of his cousin and losing out at the Grammy’s despite five nominations.
“As you step into your greatness, remember the greatest of you is those who serve. As you find your path, believe in your path and live your path, you know that you entered to learn and now must depart to serve,” he said. “You only need a heart full of grace, a soul generated by love, and you can be that servant.”

The artist told graduates not to dim their lights, or downplay their talents, for others.

“Our light was created not to be put under the bed but to be put on a lamp stand so that everybody that walks in that room can see that light and recognize that light,” he said.

The hip-hop artist, actor, author and philanthropist was presented with an honorary degree of a Doctorate of Humane Letters.

Nontraditional student Sharon Stewart could relate to what Common was telling the students and in some ways had already begun the process.

The 62-year-old student can now live her path with a bachelor’s degree in Rehabilitation Studies. Stewart calls Friday’s accomplishment “a blessing from God” as she works on her second career.

“After I got laid off from my previous job working in human services, I decided I wanted to go to school,” she said. “At times it was a struggle but I did it.”

Stewart hopes to own her own business and plans to come back to WSSU to work on her master’s degree in Rehabilitation Counseling.

Graduating Senior and Student Government Association President Olivia N. Sedwick encouraged graduates to depart and serve in the communities that they will enter.

“The motto of our university, the very core of her existence, is that of action. Seeing the need and then making the necessary steps to meet that need,” she said. “We now have the responsibility to invest in ourselves, the communities from whence we came and know the university that has prepared us for the world that awaits. The place that we have called home for the last several years is releasing us to do as our founder Simon G. Atkins intended us to do: Depart, Serve and Change the world. So 2015 graduates, class is now dismissed.”

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Chanel Davis

Chanel Davis

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