Johnson C. Smith University Presents 200 Degrees at Commencement

Wide shot of the 2023 Commencement Ceremonies

Charlotte, N.C./May 21, 2023 – Two-hundred students, 20 of whom earned their Master of Social Work degrees, crossed the stage at Bojangles Coliseum on Sunday, May 21, 2023, to receive their degrees from Johnson C. Smith University.

The keynote speaker was Grammy®-Award-winning multiplatinum singer, songwriter, producer, author and actor Anthony C. Hamilton, who delivered an empowering speech to graduates urging them to answer those who ask “what are you doing here,” with “I am here to give you the best of me.”

“One of the many reasons I’m honored to be here with you today is because I admire your generation,” said Hamilton. “Whether it’s in the streets marching against injustice, volunteering in the community, working in the classroom, or speaking out online, you are unafraid. Fearless. You don’t back down. You think differently and you fight differently.”

Hamilton applauded the graduates for their hard work at the University, noting that the students were challenged with the effects of the novel coronavirus 2019 as well as several police-involved deaths in the Black community which triggered multiple protests against systemic racism.

“You’ve already done a lot of the hard work to prepare for your future,” added Hamilton. “From classrooms to internships and jobs to fields and courts of competition to protests and even to parties, you have the experience to make a difference in this world. I am so proud and so honored to get to be here with you as you prepare to take the next step on your journey. As you take that step, don’t forget to walk in gratitude.”

Hamilton received an honorary Doctor of Fine Arts degree from JCSU conferred by President Clarence D. Armbrister, Dr. Karen D. Morgan (chief academic officer and senior vice president for Academic Affairs) and Board of Trustees Chairman Steven L. Boyd.

Boyd shared a special message with graduates.

“You have completed another level in this game called life,” he said. “I encourage you to press pause so you can briefly look back at where you started and reflect upon what you need to do to face the next level.”

A total of 104 students graduated with Latin honors – 72 earned the Cum Laude designation (3.00 to 3.49), nine earned the Magna Cum Laude designation (3.50 to 3.69) and 23 earned the Summa Cum Laude designation (3.70 to 4.00).

The valedictorian was Taylor Proffett-Brooks (Business Administration), who gave her own valedictory address.

“As I was preparing my speech, I knew I wanted to base it on something we all share: opportunity,” said Proffett-Brooks. “We all have the opportunity to be better than we were yesterday and do better tomorrow than we do today. Only you can seize the opportunities meant for you. If opportunity doesn’t knock, build a door and be ready when opportunity finds it!”

Proffett-Brooks received a medal to designate her place as valedictorian. Brandi Barron (Communication Arts) also received a medal and was named salutatorian.

The Golden Class of 1973 was recognized during the ceremony, along with the Silver Class of 1998. Members from the classes of 1948 and 1953 also celebrated milestones, and Mildred Grier ’41, a 100-year-old graduate, was recognized.

Most importantly, though, all eyes were on the Class of 2023, as the graduates celebrated their accomplishment alongside their classmates, faculty, staff, family and friends.

Following the conferring of degrees, each member of the Class of 2023 was officially inducted into the National Alumni Association by JCSU National Alumni Association President Kathryn McKenzie-Zeigler ’87.

The ceremony ended with a prayer and the singing of the JCSU Loyalty Song, a constant reminder to all Golden Bulls that the “light of truth and right,” will shine on forever through the lives of the Class of 2023.

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