Return to Hale Stadium Adds Extra Flair to 101st Spring Commencement

The Reverend Jesse Jackson (center) congratulates Mr. TSU, Sidney Johnson (left) and Miss TSU, Danicia Hays on their successful graduation. Jackson delivered the 101st commencement address to more than 1,200 graduates May 11, 2013 at Hale Stadium. (Photo by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)
The Reverend Jesse Jackson (center) congratulates Mr. TSU, Sidney Johnson (left) and Miss TSU, Danicia Hays on their successful graduation. Jackson delivered the 101st commencement address to more than 1,200 graduates May 11, 2013 at Hale Stadium. (Photo by John Cross, TSU Media Relations)

“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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About Tennessee State University

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

Young Kurdish Immigrant Beats Near Insurmountable Odds to Earn University Education, American Dream

NASHVILLE (TSU News Service) – Ghariba Babiry is a classic American dream story.

Coming to the United States 15 years ago without understanding a word of English, no prior schooling, and soon to receive a college degree,  …with a potential teaching job in tow, that’s quite an accomplishment.

“It’s all still a dream,” she said.

For the young Kurd, it all started at about age 14 when she, her father, mother and three younger siblings had to flee the tyrannical rule of Saddam Hussein. They left their Kurdish homeland in northern Iraq for a new life in the U.S.

They landed in Nashville, Tenn.- a totally different culture and way of doing things.

“This was all a new experience and yet my siblings and I were required to cope and succeed amid some serious challenges,” Babiry said.

But challenge, for Babiry, was an understatement.  It was an awakening.

“For my first time ever in a classroom, I was thrust into the eighth grade at Cameron Middle School, with no understanding of English and totally dumfounded,” she said. “I had a separate interpreter with me in class about three hours a week to guide me through the instructions while the teacher was teaching. Worse yet, at 14 years of age, I was the oldest in the class but understood the least. This was very difficult. I tried to give up several times.”

Thanks to Babiry’s very persistent parents, she hung in there through the daily struggle of trying to complete class assignments – almost always the last to finish.

“My mother was constantly on me not to give up. ‘Never give up; don’t be illiterate like me; I can’t even write my own name,’ she would say,” Babiry added.“For my father, all he wanted me to think about was school. ‘I’ll provide you with everything I can after all I came to America for you, so that I can give to you what I did not have the chance to do in Kurdistan,’ he would say.”

The persistence, struggle and what seemed to Babiry then as harassment, paid off through developmental courses -in middle school, high school, community college. …and now Tennessee State University.

On May 11, she will be among more than 1,000 graduates who will receive their degrees when Tennessee State University holds its spring commencement at Hale Stadium.

She will be the third among her siblings to receive a college degree since arriving in the U.S. Two younger brothers, one in Mechanical Engineering and the other in Nursing, have also graduated from TSU. Her youngest sister is pursuing a nursing degree at Middle Tennessee Sate University.

“The idea of graduating May 11 is very surreal because I have been through so much and there were many times that I was not sure I would get through the Praxis exams,” said Babiry, who will receive her degree in Early Childhood Education. “It is even more special to know that my parents will finally see me graduate after many years of hard work. I am thankful to Allah the almighty for their support and for giving me the strength and some very important people who understood my situation and encouraged me along the way.”

While Babiry tries to forget the painful past, she is reminded of “teachers who treated me badly because I did not understand like the other students” did.

“I have made a promise not to do that to my students. Instead, I will be like those who did everything they could to make sure I fit in, understood and treated me with respect and not like I was a burden. A kind word and a little encouragement go a long way; believe me,” she said, giving recognition to some of her TSU professors, especially Dr. Graham Matthews, her senior advisor.

“I had some good teachers, but Dr. Matthews, Ms. (Deborah) Bellamy (also at TSU), and Dr. Tammy Lipsey (Reading Clinical Coordinator for the Metro School System) are heaven sent,” she said. “They were never too busy to make sure I was doing the right thing.”

In addition to her degree, Babiry has completed all certifications required for teaching, with the exception of the English Language Learners Certification or endorsement required to teach in the schools in her area. She should get that certification soon, she said.

She is currently a student teacher at Haywood Elementary School in Nashville.

“I am really enjoying student teaching. I love seeing my students’ faces every day and helping them,” said Babiry, who also worked as a substitute teacher with the Metro School System. “I have a heart for children.  Like many immigrants, I have experienced many hardships in my life, and I am certain that because of my experience, I will be the best role model for my students.”

Babiry seeks no pity, even though it took her seven years to complete her college work, including two years off to focus on passing the Praxis, which she attempted 13 times before finally passing, and spending her first two years of college taking ELL classes and developmental course, she feels stronger.

“This was all because of the difficulty with the English language,” she said. “But I am thankful I stuck with it. I am stronger, more confident, and with my education, I am ready to face the world.”