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Opening Convocation provides opportunity to reunite JCSU family back on campus

Freshmen, faculty and staff processing across campusCharlotte, N.C. (Sept. 9, 2021) – Johnson C. Smith University freshmen returned to tradition on Sept. 9, 2021, as they were welcomed to our campus learning community in-person as part of the Opening Convocation.  

The ceremony began with the customary lineup for freshmen, faculty and staff who processed up the Golden Mile from Biddle Hall to the Jane M. Smith Memorial Church. Dr. Kendal Mobley, assistant professor of religion and coordinator of the Spiritual Life Center, led the group in prayer. 

Dr. Karen Morgan, senior vice president for Academic Affairs, welcomeeveryone and gave the class of 2025 some words of encouragement. 

Freshmen placed their own pins on this year.

“I encourage you, Smithites, find your passion and nurture it. Dream of excellence, dive into the sun’s belly and create,” Morgan said. 

Morgan was followed by a welcome from Dr. Rhonda Moses, associate vice president for Enrollment Management, who also delivered some wisdom to the incoming class. 

“Make the most of your four years as an undergraduate at JCSU. Make every day a learning experience,” said Moses. 

There was a musical interlude as Dr. Shawn-Allyce White, director of Choral Activities, took the stage for a solo performance before Ryan Dillon ’22, psychology major and McNair scholar, introduced the Convocation Speaker, Clarence D. Armbrister, J.D., 14th president of the University. 

Armbrister made a note of how excited he was that the freshman class was able to reconvene because it had been 740 days since the last in-person Opening Convocation due to the COVID-19 pandemic. 

The main theme of Armbrister’s address was “Don’t lose sight of ‘why’.” He encouraged students to think critically, most importantly, to keep asking questions. Armbrister asked the audience to ask themselves ‘why am I here?” more specifically, to ask it through the filter of the past, present and future. 

Freshmen are officially welcomed as part of our learning community at Convocation.Armbrister talked about the past and gave his personal answer to that question by sharing his family history from a century ago. He told the story of his maternal grandfather, Rev. Richard Higgs, who was kidnapped by a group of white citizens who beat him, threatened to hang him, only agreeing to release him when he promised to return to the Bahamas. Higgs was targeted because of what he taught from the pulpit of the St. James Baptist Church in Miami, which he helped foundand because he worked with the United Negro Improvement Association to challenge the racial injustices against Black people at the time. 

Higgs never returned to the U.S., but roughly 50 of his descendants, including Armbrister, gathered in his church exactly 100 years later, on July 1, 2021, to honor his memory in the present.  

“As we move out of the past into the present, I am hopeful that as you continue to give critical thought to my admonition not to lose sight of ‘why’ and you ask yourself ‘why am I here?’ I want you to think about the extraordinary opportunities that are before you, notwithstanding the challenges of this worldwide pandemic,” Armbrister said. 

As for the future, Armbrister noted that as he has connected with the business community, the desire for diverse talent has never been higher. 

“There is not a firm, an entity, in my time since I started here at JCSU, that does not want a well-prepared JCSU student,” Armbrister said. “They want you.” 

In closing, he urged students to take advantage of every opportunity that lay before them, noting it is often difficult for students to look beyond the moment at hand. He reminded them they are here today to secure their futures. 

“Take advantage of JCSU’s intimate surroundings and leverage them to establish relationships,” Armbrister encouraged the freshmen. 

The JCSU Concert Choir then took the stage in-person for one of the first times since the pandemic with an uplifting rendition of “Total Praise.” 

Freshmen placing their pins during Opening Convocation.Finally, the class of 2025 spoke the sacred words many students before them had uttered when Morgan led them in a recitation of the Honor Code followed by Dr. Davida Haywood ’98, vice president of Student Affairs, who led them in placing their freshmen pins. 

“Imagine where you will be in four years. Hold on to this convocation pin and sear in your minds the image of placing this pin on your graduation regalia,” Haywood told them. 

Dr. Karen Morgan, senior vice president for Academic Affairs Greets students as they exit the church.Brandon Lloyd ’25, said the ceremony gave him an opportunity to learn more about the University, and he enjoyed attending as one of his first experiences as a JCSU student. He is excited to be on campus in an in-person environment.

“I like in-person interactions,” he said. “It allows us to be more social again, meet people, make connections and have a really good experience. I’m glad we were able to open this semester.

President Armbrister and Dr. Karen Morgan pose for a photo after Opening Convocation.

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