Melissa Harris-Perry: Defy odds, make a difference

Author and well-known scholar Melissa Harris-Perry delivers the keynote address during Winston-Salem State University’s commencement ceremony on Friday, May 13 at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.

Melissa Harris-Perry: Defy odds, make a difference
May 19
08:55 2016

Photo by Tevin Stinson

WSSU graduates ready for next phase



The Lawrence Joel Veteran’s Memorial Coliseum was filled with joy and excitement last Saturday as more than 800 undergraduate and graduate students from Winston-Salem State University completed their academic voyage during the 126th commencement ceremony.

During their seemingly endless wait to cross the stage, chipper laughs and chatter echoed throughout the crowded corridors as the students discussed their journey to graduation day and future plans.

Durham native Jarian Mitchell said he was excited to be receiving his bachelor’s degree in justice studies. Following graduation Mitchell, a member of Omega Si Phi fraternity, will be commissioned as a Second Lieutenant in the U.S. Army Military Police Division. Mitchell said although it was hard at times, the support of family and friends is what got him through.

“It wasn’t easy,” he said. “I’m just thankful for all the support I received over the past four years. Without them I may not be standing here today.”

Magnum Cum Laude candidate Tevin Taylor patiently stood in line chatting with friends while waiting to receive his degree. “It’s a blessing,” he said. “This is something I have really worked hard for my entire life. To be standing here today is just a blessing.”

An exercise science major from Rocky Mount, Taylor said now he will pursue a doctorate in physical therapy.

“This is only the beginning. I will be attending Duke University in the fall.”

Award-winning author, well-known scholar and presidential endowed professor at Wake Forest, Melissa Harris-Perry opened her keynote address by telling the students they were not supposed to be there.

“Some of you are not supposed to be here today, this university isn’t supposed to be here,” Harris-Perry said. “Your bodies were meant for death and destruction.”

Harris-Perry is the Maya Angelou Chair at Wake Forest University. She is also founding director of the Anna Julia Cooper Center on Gender, Race, and Politics in the South.

The center supports, generates and communicates innovative research dealing with gender, race, and place. It works to advance equity through teaching, research and community engagement.

She went on to discuss the early beginnings of the university which was established during the “Gilded Age” as Slater Industrial Academy in 1892. During that time when segregation was still prevalent throughout the south, Simon Green Atkins defied odds when he opened the doors of a one room schoolhouse more than 100 years ago.

After taking a selfie with the entire class of 2016, Harris-Perry said just like Green, the students are game changers who should continue to defy odds and make a difference.

“This is your moment; I can’t wait to see the difference you are going to make,” she said.

“You have come to Winston-Salem State to learn now depart to serve.”

Harris-Perry was presented with an honorary degree of Doctorate of Humane Letters.

A number of students can relate to what Harris-Perry said about defying odds and overcoming obstacles. Lisa Mansfield from Bridgeport, Conn., said two weeks after starting the Master of Science in the nursing program, she thought about quitting.

“It feels amazing,” she said. “To be here today is surreal. I’m glad I stuck it out and continued to push through.”

Mansfield mentioned in the fall she will begin working on obtaining her Ph.D. from Duke University. She hopes to one day become a professor.

Nontraditional students and city natives Lashanda Booker and Valjean Griggs can relate as well. Booker, a 44-year-old English major, said it feels wonderful being the first person in her family to graduate from college. She said, “What I will cherish most is the inspiration the students gave me.

“The students gave me life,” she said.

Griggs, a 70-year-old interdisciplinary studies major, said being the oldest graduate to walk across the stage let’s people know that with hard work and dedication, you can accomplish anything. She said that she hopes to inspire other seniors to go back to school.

“As long as there is breath in your body, it’s never too late,” said Griggs. “I’m a prime example that you can accomplish anything you put your mind to.”

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