JCSU Commencement Celebrates 228 Graduates, Now Golden Bull Alumni

Class of 2024 Walks into Bojangles Coliseum

Charlotte, N.C./May 19, 2024 – Waves of Golden Bulls flooded Bojangles Coliseum on Sunday, May 19, 2024, at 11 a.m. to walk across the stage, some of them for the first time, to receive their degrees.

Class of 2024 Student Celebrates Commencement
Graduate celebrates before crossing the stage.

Johnson C. Smith University conferred 228 degrees, 207 to undergraduate students, and 21 to graduate students in the Master of Social Work program. A total of 125 of those graduates completed their studies with Latin honors by earning a 3.0 grade-point average or higher throughout their collegiate career.

“Let us acknowledge that many of you graduated from high school during the COVID pandemic,” said Dr. Valerie Kinloch ’96, president of JCSU. “You, in my opinion, are bold, brilliant, and more than resilient. I say to all of you, my first graduating class, I cannot be more proud and more excited to stand here as your 15th president graduating you all from my alma mater.”

The ceremony featured words of encouragement from the Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, senator for the state of Georgia; messages from Kinloch, Board of Trustees Chairman Steven L. Boyd ’79, and Provost Dr. Thierno Thiam; and a special address from this year’s valedictorian, Saeed Dupree.

Vice President for Student Affairs and Enrollment Management Dr. Davida Haywood opened the ceremony with inspiring words.

“These undergraduates and graduates were not here for their first year, and maybe some wondered if they would ever set foot 100 Beatties Ford Rd.,” she said. “This morning, we call your names publicly because it matters. We’re acknowledging that you matter because, perhaps throughout your collegiate journey, someone told you that you weren’t college material. So, no matter in you’re graduating cum laude or thank ya Lordy, take in and soak up this moment.”

President Kinloch Celebrates Achievements of Class of 2024 Graduates
Kinloch celebrates the accomplishments of the Class of 2024 after announcing that nearly half of the graduating class was graduating with honors. Photo by Joshua Nypaver.

Kinloch announced that the Class of 2024 had reported completing more than 160 internships and experiential learning opportunities. She also shared some of the graduate schools students had been accepted into, including Columbia University, Elon University School of Law and others. Additionally, some graduates reported they would be accepting job offers at Bank of America, Central Piedmont Community College, Duke Energy, Mecklenburg County, Michael Kors, Wells Fargo and the U.S. Army, among others. 

Boyd remembered when he was asked “What’s next” just moments after receiving his diploma from JCSU. 

“The input from those conversations can be life-changing,” he said. “I’m not suggesting you close your eyes, ears, or mind to their well-meaning council. But before rushing forward with your wide eyes and optimism, I encourage you to take just a minute to stop and reflect. Who were you on that first day when you walked onto campus and declared yourself a Golden Bull? Take a deep breath and collect those memories. Always remember that you’ve earned a seat at the table. And if anyone says different, I encourage you to set your own table and decide who gets a seat.”

Boyd, Thiam and Kinloch proudly presented Warnock with an honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters before he took to the podium. 

“Breaking news, it’s official,” Warnock said as he approached the microphone. “Raphael Warnock is now a Golden Bull!”

After an eruption of applause from the audience, Warnock began his speech with a shout of praise.

Senator Raphael Warnock Delivers Commencement Speech to Class of 2024
Sen. Raphael Warnock delivers commencement speech. Photo by Joshua Nypaver. 

“Every HBCU commencement is a hallelujah moment,” he said. “Give God some praise for this moment. Let’s celebrate this moment together – it’s Sunday morning!” 

Warnock is the first Black senator to be elected to represent the state of Georgia. As one of 12 children, Warnock reminisced about his childhood, where his family may have been short on money, but was long on faith and love.

As a child, Warnock was captivated by Civil Rights icon Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Warnock said he was intrigued by King’s gentle, yet firm spirit and the way he eloquently used the “King’s English” to weave intricate speeches that would captivate the nation forever. So, when it was time to find a college, King’s alma mater, Morehouse College, called out to him.

“As a kid, he captured my imagination,” Warnock remembered. “I often say Dr. King’s spirit summoned me to Morehouse. I wanted to breathe in that air of excellence.”
But his family couldn’t afford Morehouse’s tuition, so Warnock joked he went to school on a “full faith scholarship,” explaining “That’s when you don’t have enough money for even the first semester, but you decide to go anyway.”

He remembered being greeted by fellow students dressed in Brooks Brothers suits driving fancy cars. They were still driving those cars four years later, but this time, they passed by Warnock’s graduation instead of joining him on stage. 

Decades later in 2022 when Ketanji Brown Jackson was officially installed as a Supreme Court Justice of the United States, he and other senators were encouraged to write a letter to someone special in their lives about that historic moment.

Warnock wrote a letter to his daughters.

Valedictorian Saeed Dupree - Salutatorian John Josiah.jpg
Valedictorian Saeed Dupree, left, poses for a photo with John Josiah, Salutatorian. Photo by Joshua Nypaver.

“We have a Supreme Court Justice and a Vice President of the United States with hair like yours,” he wrote. “We have HBCU graduates in the Senate. Vice President Kamala Harris is an HBCU graduate. In America, you can achieve anything you set your head and your heart to do. Whatever you’re doing, Class of 2024, you’re writing a letter to the next generation.”

“I know it's dark now,” added Warnock, “But that’s when the stars show up – when it’s dark. All of you are stars. Some stars may shine brighter than others, but a star is still a start. Don’t underestimate what you can do as a young person right now.”

Warnock’s speech was followed by recognitions of the Salutatorian John Josiah and the Valedictorian Saeed Dupree, who offered words of encouragement to his fellow graduates. 

“I can’t describe my time at JCSU without talking about COVID-19,” he said. “As the pandemic persisted, it gave me time to look in the mirror and I didn’t like what I saw.”

Dupree, who said he was once focused on material gain, said his priorities changed, especially after a family member had a stroke, and he witnessed some of the disparities the Black community faces in the healthcare industry.

Class of 1974 Celebrates Gold Anniversary at 2024 Commencement Ceremony
The Class of 1974 celebrates its Gold Anniversary during the 2024 Commencement Ceremony. Photo by Joshua Nypaver.

“My legacy is to give back to my family, friends and community by becoming a medical doctor,” he said. “When you saw me studying during Homecoming and various other events, it was for a reason. Teammates, when you saw me studying before, during and after Track meets, it was for a reason. I am on a mission, I cannot fail.”

“If a lockdown couldn’t stop us, and if tests and senior papers couldn’t stop us, nothing will stop us from making our legacy great,” Dupree added. “If you ever feel like giving up, know that your JCSU family is here to pick you up. We all bleed Gold and Blue.”

The Gold Class of 1974, which was celebrating its 50th anniversary as graduates of JCSU, was recognized during the ceremony. During their five-year giving campaign, the Class of 1974 has raised more than $133,000 for the University. The Silver Class of 1999 was celebrating its 25th anniversary. Over the last five years, the Class of 1999 has given nearly $25,000 back to their alma mater. 

Also recognized was the late Mildred Grier, a 1952 graduate who passed a few months prior to the 2024 Commencement Ceremony, and just days before celebrating her 101st birthday.

Commencement ended with the more than 200 graduates finally crossing the stage for the first time to receive their diplomas, most of them never having had the chance to do so when receiving their high school diplomas. The air was filled with infectious energy and joy as the graduates turned their tassels in eager anticipation of starting their newest chapter as Golden Bull Alumni.

Watch the full Commencement ceremony on the JCSU YouTube channel. 

Watch the Commencement Ceremony

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