Sellers to WSSU graduates: Defy the odds

WSSU photo– Winston-Salem State University Professor Dr. Jack Monell takes a moment to take a photo with the graduates during the commencement ceremony on Friday, May 19.

Sellers to WSSU graduates: Defy the odds
May 25
05:00 2017

Although the official start of the college football season is still a few months away, last Friday morning Bowman Gray Stadium resembled homecoming weekend as thousands of eager cheering fans, filled the stadium to celebrate the graduates of Winston-Salem State University (WSSU). 

More than 900 undergraduate and graduate degrees were awarded during the ceremony as the class of 2017 transitioned to alumni status. For the graduates, the ceremony represented the culmination of countless long nights, early mornings and extended study sessions.

But that day, students heard inspiration from another young person.

During the keynote address, Bakari Sellers, a lawyer and political commentator with CNN who is from South Carolina, encouraged graduates to reach for the stars and continue to defy stereotypes set by society.

“Our expectations of all of you are high. Your community expects to read about you in the newspaper as you blaze an unprecedented trail through history. And though it may not be fair that we have such high expectations, we do, and you only have yourself to blame because you have exceeded every expectation placed before you.”   

To motivate the graduates Sellers, who became the youngest black elected official in the country at age 22, being elected to the S.C. General Assembly, talked about some of the obstacles his father, Cleveland Sellers, a civil rights leader, faced while fighting for what he believed in. 

“Just look where I’m standing now. In just one generation, an agitator’s son became a legislator, the [Democratic] nominee for lieutenant governor and now I’m on CNN. So no, life isn’t fair, but it isn’t fixed either. What we do better than anyone else is that what others say can’t be done, we do it,” continued Sellers. “We have lit a torch of freedom that still shines for the world to see and it is that torch that we pass to you today.

“Don’t be afraid to dare greatly and fail. Don’t be afraid to be the miracles that you already are. 2017, let’s go give them hell.”

For sisters Eomba F. and Edith Pungu, the journey to graduation day has been a family affair. It started in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. For the second time in 10 years, the duo crossed the WSSU commencement stage together, this time earning their Masters of Science in Nursing degree.

“I’m so excited. I feel honored and privileged to once again walk to the podium with my lovely sister,” said Edith. “I cannot have imagined being here without the love and support of my big sister.”

Eomba said, “My younger sister has been my cheerleader and backbone throughout this entire process.”

The sisters in nursing both said attending WSSU will help take their careers to another level as they took a step closer to becoming family practitioners.

Political science major Mona Zahir said although the journey wasn’t easy, it was all worth it in the end. Zahir, who served as the president of the Student Government Association, said that the Class of 2017 stands on the backs of great African American leaders who came before them.

“This road was not easy, but we rose to the occasion,” she said.

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Tevin Stinson

Tevin Stinson

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