“Keep Hope Alive,” Jesse Jackson Tells Graduates
NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – The return to Hale Stadium Saturday in a large part contributed to the massive celebration that accompanied TSU’s 101st spring commencement when more than 1,200 graduates walked across the huge stage to receive their degrees.
Seeing the graduates’ faces in digital displays projected on two massive jumbotron screens as they receive their diplomas from TSU President, Dr. Glenda Glover and commencement speaker, the Reverend Jesse Jackson, gave parents, relatives and friends an extra thrill from the packed Hale Stadium.
Maria Ann Randall, 66, who came from Indianapolis to watch her niece, Melissa Walker, receive her degree in Arts and Sciences, said she was extra excited to be able to “actually see and hear Melissa’s name from way up in the stadium as the President gave her the degree.”
“This is really great and a good investment, and makes a proud moment even more meaningful,” said Randall, who was obviously surprised that this was the first time in more than 30 years a graduation was taking place at the stadium. “You all should do this more often.”
For Jackson, the civil rights icon, it was all business. The graduates needed to be reminded about what was expected of them, the challenges those before them faced, the possibilities that lie ahead, and making education more affordable.
“The American dream, which you pursue, is one big net, we are all in it and no one is out,” said Jackson. “The challenge is for all of us to renew our commitment and lift America from the bottom up, not just from the top down.”
Saying that there was too much wealth at the top while the middle class sank, Jackson acknowledged the current economic recovery, but added, “It is from the top down, not from the bottom up.”
“People are struggling to make ends meet; opportunities are getting fewer. As you leave from here there are some of you who will go home instead of going to work. But you must not surrender. Go out and look for more jobs and more education,” Jackson said.
Last semester, a significant number of the students, about 16,000 from HBCUs, were casualties of the federal government’s new and tighter rules governing Parent Plus Loans used by thousands of parents to help pay college costs. HBCUs lost about $166 million in Plus Loans because fewer parents were eligible to receive the government funding. TSU lost $1.6 million.
Jackson, who in the 60s marched along side Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., in the fight for freedom, sees this “discrepancy” as another roadblock or government “ploy” to deny minority access to quality education.
“After 50 years since the March on Washington led by Dr. King, today, we are freer but still less equal,” said Jackson, the two-time former presidential contender, and founder and CEO of the Rainbow PUSH Coalition, a multi-issue social justice organization. He referred to the “immoral war” in Iraq, violence and hate as reasons behind the inequality.
He reminded the graduates about TSU’s contribution to education for Blacks and the institution’s role in the struggle for equality.
“This was a hotbed of activity for talent,” Jackson said of TSU. “It is a monument to our struggle that we made the New South new. Segregation was more than skin deep. It was bone marrow deep and 50 years later, we’re freer but less equal.”
Asking the graduates and the audience to join him in chanting his famous “Keep Hope Alive” line, Jackson challenged the graduating class not to give up when faced with adversities.
“It is not where you came from or who you come from, but where you are going with what you have. No one here knows what you will be tomorrow, but keep hope alive,” he added, citing the 1968 Memphis, Tenn., uprising, when Dr. King went to support African-American sanitation workers who were striking for equal pay and for a union.
“Mr. (Henry) Baskin, your President, Dr. Glover’s father, was a garbage worker who, as a sanitation supervisor, was a leader in that march. So, from the daughter of a garbage worker to President of university – anything is possible, you only have to be determined. Don’t surrender; keep hope alive.”
In addressing her first commencement class since becoming president in January, Dr. Glover congratulated the graduates for their achievement, and thanked their parents, relatives and friends for the support.
“These students are out here today to celebrate their achievements because of you,” Dr. Glover said. “They could not have made it without you nudging them on and giving them the kind of support they need to be successful.”
The President, who called Jackson a friend, thanked the civil rights leader for his contribution to the movement for justice. She talked days earlier about the appropriateness of Jackson’s participation in the commencement and his speech to the students because 2013 marks 50 years since one of the civil rights movement’s defining moments.
“Since it is the 50th anniversary of the March on Washington, since [Rev. Jackson] is a notable icon of the entire civil rights movement, I thought it was just proper for him to encourage the students,” Glover said. “That march was about employment and economics, the same issues that graduates are confronting today. Fast-forward 50 years and we have Rev. Jackson to talk to us.”
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With nearly 9,000 students, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a comprehensive, urban, co-educational, land-grant university offering 38 undergraduate, 22 graduate and seven doctoral programs. TSU has earned a top 20 ranking for Historically Black Colleges and Universities according to U.S. News and World Report, and rated as one of the top universities in the country by Washington Monthly for social mobility, research and community service. Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University celebrated 100 years in Nashville during 2012. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.