U.S. Rep. James Clyburn, Cellphone Pioneer Jesse Russell Addressed Nearly 500 Degree Candidates at MSU’s Fall Commencement
Pride was in the air today, as nearly 500 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degree candidates, and hundreds of their supporters, braved a cold, rainy journey to Hill Field House for the Seventh Fall Commencement Exercises of Morgan State University. The third-ranking Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives, Majority Whip James E. Clyburn of South Carolina, was the keynote speaker for the event, and communications technology expert Jesse E. Russell, a pioneer in the development of the cellphone’s wireless technology, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Science. The event marked a number of significant institutional milestones for the 152-year-old Historically Black Institution as well as notable personal milestones for many of this season’s graduates.
The University conferred its 800th doctoral degree during the ceremony, a number that included a record 79 doctorates awarded in 2019, the most awarded in a calendar year since the University began offering doctoral degrees.
Kayla Huffman, from Randallstown, Maryland, and Jennai Charles, from Windsor, Connecticut, both received bachelor’s degrees in biology during the exercises and, like many of the candidates gathered in Morgan’s University Student Center before the ceremony, were happy to share their short-term career plans. Huffman plans to return to Walter Reed Army Institute of Research, where she did laboratory work as an undergraduate, and Charles has been accepted into the doctoral program at Notre Dame of Maryland University’s School of Pharmacy. Both praised their Morgan experience.
“I originally went to Towson University, and I transferred here to Morgan,” Huffman said. “(Morgan) was more open, more welcoming. I got closer to the staff than I did at my previous school. It was really helpful. I made a lot of friends…. It was just a better environment for me.”
“I wanted to go to an HBCU and get out of Connecticut,” said Charles.
Davon Rice, from Baltimore, was eager to receive his Master of Arts in Teaching and continue his work at Woodlawn High School in Baltimore County. He plans to come back to MSU to begin a doctoral program in education next year.
“I love Morgan. I went here for my undergrad degree as well,” Rice said. “Just the culture, convenience: everybody is on one accord. I love my school.”
Corin (“Tiny”) Adams had also returned to Morgan, after earning a bachelor’s at MSU in 2010. A former Bears Women’s Basketball player, she lived abroad before enrolling in the Master of Arts in journalism program.
“In the sports field, I love to tell stories,” Adams said. “I took to this field to learn how to do it the right way, so I can tell more comeback stories, perseverance stories, and try to inspire people.”
‘Never, Ever Give Up’
Adams’ words foreshadowed Congressman’s Clyburn’s address, in which he exhorted the soon-to-be graduates to be thankful for those who have supported their dreams and to persevere in their endeavors.
“You will not always get things right the first time you attempt it. Remember to never, ever give up,” Clyburn said. “…In order to be successful in life, you must never give up, and don’t hesitate to get outside of your comfort zone,” he continued, citing proof from African-American history, including his own political career, in which he failed in his first three runs for Congress.
In his acceptance speech for his honorary degree, Russell continued the theme of perseverance, recalling the challenge of working at Bell Laboratories as an engineering graduate of historically black Tennessee State University in the 1980s, “when it was unpopular for African Americans to be at that institution….”
“As I stand before you and reflect on a meeting at Bell Labs with an all-white group in 1984, where the young man from Tennessee State University had the self-confidence necessary to challenge the teaching of the Bell System of putting phones in places and rose up and asked the question, ‘Why not focus on putting phones on people?’…which gave rise to digital cellular technology and ultimately a digital cellular communications industry,” Russell said.
Russell called on the degree candidates to pursue excellence, study continuously and value courage and character.
Four undergraduate candidates earned the title of class valedictorian: Kingsley Anokwuru (B.S, biology), Blanca Assie (B.S., strategic communication), Sidney Jones (B.S., psychology) and Zhane Washington (B.S., biology). MSU President David Wilson awarded the President’s Second Mile Award for outstanding leadership and participation in student affairs to Tyrell Caine (B.S., civil engineering) and the President’s Award for Exceptional Creative Achievement to Byron De La Cruz (B.S., architecture and environmental design).
In her Salute to the Graduates, Senior Class President Imani Dews recounted lessons she and her classmates had learned during their time at Morgan, including the necessity of time management skills, the importance of friendship, the need to step outside of their comfort zone, the need to become their own greatest advocates, and the knowledge that everything — good and bad — happens for a reason.
Morgan State University, founded in 1867, is a Carnegie-classified doctoral research institution offering more than 125 academic programs leading to degrees from the baccalaureate to the doctorate. As Maryland’s Preeminent Public Urban Research University, Morgan serves a multiethnic and multiracial student body and seeks to ensure that the doors of higher education are opened as wide as possible to as many as possible. For more information about Morgan State University, visit www.morgan.edu.