More than 700 bachelor’s candidates and 228 master’s and doctoral candidates received their degrees at Morgan State University’s (MSU’s) jubilant 143rd Spring Commencement Exercises, which included a ceremony for undergraduates held on May 18, and a School of Graduate Studies ceremony on May 16. U.S. Rep. Elijah Cummings, a member of Morgan’s Board of Regents, was the guest speaker for the Undergraduate Ceremony held in Hughes Memorial Stadium on Morgan’s campus, while across town in Baltimore City, the annual Preakness Day festivities were taking place. Retired New York Times sports columnist, journalist and author William C. Rhoden of Morgan’s Class of 1973 received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters during the ceremony. More than 100 members of Morgan’s Class of 1969 led the procession into the stadium and were honored as representatives of the 50th anniversary class, a day after announcement of its $1.4 million in giving to the University in 2018, during Morgan’s Alumni Day luncheon.
Morgan’s Class of 2019 was rich with success stories reflecting the diversity that is one the University’s core values and a central part of its stated mission.
Alexis Samuels is a self-described “military kid” and former “nerd,” who was born in Germany and grew up in Texas, Tennessee and in Frederick, Maryland, where she attended a predominantly white high school before following her mother’s and sister’s example to attend an Historically Black College or University (HBCU). A Travelers EDGE scholarship paid her tuition and fees and provided internships with Travelers during her four-year Bachelor of Science program in actuarial science. She has accepted a full-time position as a software engineer with JPMorgan Chase.
“Morgan stood out to me because it was the only school in Maryland that had an actuarial science program,” Samuels said. “…I see why my mom loves her HBCU,” she said, “because I definitely love Morgan.”
Timani Richardson, aged 19, received a Bachelor of Arts in political science during the Spring Commencement. Born and raised in Washington, D.C.’s Ward 7 — a low-income area of the city — she excelled as a student and began earning an associate’s degree at George Washington University during her sophomore year at the School Without Walls high school. She came to Morgan two years ago to earn her bachelor’s. Inspired toward a career in civil and human rights during an international relations course at Morgan, she hopes to work as a paralegal or in government while she prepares to take the LSAT exam and apply for law school at Howard University and several other institutions.
“I definitely wanted to get a bachelor’s from an HBCU,” Richardson said, “and I wanted to have (the) experience of being at a black university.”
Lucas Krusinski, a native of France, arrived at Morgan unable to speak English but determined to play for the men’s tennis team, which is the 2019 MEAC champion. Now fluent in English, and a Class of 2019 valedictorian, he has received his MSU bachelor’s degree in nutritional science and has received two fully funded offers for graduate school to pursue a doctorate in food science at Michigan State University.
Withelma T. Ortiz Walker Pettigrew, a.k.a. T. Ortiz, received her Bachelor of Science in strategic communication, with honors, and has begun full-time work as the anti-trafficking and anti-exploitation coordinator for the Baltimore Child Abuse Center. Her 11-year journey through higher education came after she suffered years of childhood sexual, physical and verbal abuse and had become a nationally recognized advocate for children. A native of Oakland, California, she came to Baltimore homeless in 2014, the same year she was recognized as one of Time magazine’s “100 Most Influential People.”
“I needed somebody that was culturally competent in all ways….” Ortiz said. “Not only do you need to understand me as a person, as a black woman, you need to understand my adversity. You need to understand my struggle. You need to understand where I come from. And as soon as I got to Morgan, I had that…. Leaving Morgan is going to be one of the most profound moments of my life.”
Dominic Dingle received a Master of Science in sociology during the School of Graduate Studies Commencement and was commissioned with eight other MSU students as a U.S. Army second lieutenant during a Morgan Bear Battalion ROTC ceremony the next day. Morgan’s first graduate student to receive an ROTC commission, and the son of U.S. Army Brig. Gen. R. Scott Dingle of Morgan’s Class of 1988, Dominic called his graduation experience “pretty emotional: following in my dad’s footsteps (and) having him there speaking at my commissioning, and then being pinned by a family member.” Dominic is headed to his first duty station, Fort Carson, Colorado, where he will begin his military career as a member of the sports staff for the 10th Special Forces Group.
Angela Mathis is a member of the staff of Prince George’s Community College’s Communications and Marketing Department. As a student in Morgan’s Community College Leadership doctoral program, she brought her long experience in K–12 and higher education as well as her track record in broadcast and cable television. The Washington, D.C., native and second-generation HBCU graduate hopes to use the knowledge she gained in earning her Ed.D. to help community colleges use video more effectively to support student success and to launch a website, Motivate2Graduate.com, to inspire students of color to complete college.
Morgan, she said, “has certainly surpassed my expectations. I’ve enjoyed my professors and my advisors and have really developed a strong relationship with the cohort of colleagues who were in this program with me. And I will cherish this the rest of my life.”
“Life flourishes most at the crossroads where two diverse ecosystems meet,” said Congressman Cummins in his address. Drawing on his own childhood experience, Cummings spoke of the power of diversity to lead the U.S. past what he called a “critical crossroads” for the nation.
Growing up in an underserved area of Baltimore City, Cummings said, he attended a poor school and was assigned to “the third group” of students, what is now known as special education. He recalled wondering how the words “liberty and justice for all” in the Pledge of Allegiance applied to him, and he remembered a school counselor’s berating him for aspiring to become a lawyer. Later, in Congress, when he had become a lawyer, he questioned his own qualification to serve on a committee, until he realized he was the only “expert” in special education in the room. He was able to advance legislation to support special ed.
“You, each and every one of you, are better and more valuable to our country because of the obstacles that you have faced and overcome,” Cummings told the audience. “….Your life experiences and your educational achievements are essential elements of our potential to lead our nation during a very difficult and challenging time.”
“What I do ask of each of you is to appreciate the value of our democratic republic in its hour of peril,” Cummings said. “What I do ask of each of you, and especially our graduates, is to call upon the challenge and education that you have received at this great institution and stand up for our democracy in your own communities.”
Six undergraduate candidates with perfect 4.0 cumulative grade point averages shared the title of class valedictorian: Jamielle Davis (B.S., accounting), Kristina Kincaid (B.S., social work), Lucas Krusinski (B.S., nutritional science), Eduardo Lopez (B.S., industrial engineering), Pierce Perkins (B.S., chemistry) and Ethan Simms (B.S., social work).
MSU President David Wilson honored Averi Maxine Turner (B.S., business administration) with the President’s Second Mile Award for outstanding leadership and participation in student affairs, and Kayla Griffin (B.S., psychology) with the President’s Award for Exceptional Creative Achievement.
In her salute to the graduates at the Undergraduate Exercises, Senior Class President Emani Majors (B.S., construction management) called upon Morgan’s newest alumni to disregard titles and instead search for their mission, their “why.” Master’s degree candidate Stanley Jenkins (M.A., African American studies) and doctoral candidate Valerie Riggs (Ed.D., urban educational leadership) inspired the audience with their salute to the graduates at the School of Graduate Studies Commencement.
Kevon Dix, a Morgan student killed tragically by gunfire in late April of this year, was memorialized with a posthumous Bachelor of Arts in music. In addition, Abdulaziz Bin Zaid, a School of Business student who suffered an accidental death in Las Vegas during the winter break, was awarded with a posthumous Bachelor of Science in Marketing.