TSU works to remove language barrier as only HBCU, state institution with CEA-accredited program

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Mauricio Fabian had initially planned to complete the Intensive English Program (IEP) at Tennessee State University to learn English and then return to his native home in Veracruz, Mexico.

However, after successfully completing the program in under a year and excelling in learning English, Fabian made the decision to stay in Nashville and pursue his Master of Business Administration at TSU. He will be the first in his family to obtain a master’s degree. Just as impressive, he is the first in his family to journey to the United States in pursuit of an education.

IEP students at a seminar in the university’s Career Center learning career opportunities.

TSU’s IEP is the only Commission on English Language Program Accreditation (CEA) accredited intensive English program in the state of Tennessee. It is also the first and only accredited program at an HBCU. The IEP is specifically designed to serve international students seeking admission to graduate and undergraduate programs.

“I learned how to write, read, and pronounce words,” Fabian said. “It’s good to have this program because I know many students who want to learn English. They want to learn, and this can support their future.”

After receiving his certificate of achievement in the program, Fabian promptly enrolled as a student. He expressed his gratitude to the university and acknowledged that the opportunities at TSU and in Nashville were too valuable to ignore. Currently, there are nearly 40 participants in the Intensive English Program. An environment that is bridging language barriers and fostering community integration.

The IEP became accredited in December 2020.

Mauricio Fabian receives a certificate of achievement after completing the Intensive English Program.

“Through this program they get better jobs, they get to communicate better and help them integrate into their new life,” stated Engin Ayvaz, the program’s director. “Not only are we serving TSU, but also the Nashville community.”

Jewell Winn, the Executive Director for the Office of International Affairs, highlighted how people from all over the world invest in TSU’s program to learn the language and then return to their home countries to teach it. Others, like Fabian, choose to remain and pursue their degrees at the university to seek better employment opportunities in the states.

“I have much pride when I am able to say that TSU is the only accredited program,” Winn said. “TSU has connected so many people through our IEP.”

The Office of International Affairs has been operating at TSU since 2012. When Ayvaz began his career at the university in 2017, he made it his mission to officially obtain accreditation for the IEP. Fabian, being one of the program’s first students during the post-COVID-19 period, has been an asset in assisting other students.

IEP students during an end-of-year party at TSU. (Photo submitted)

“He is an excellent student,” Ayvaz said. “He was so adamant and committed. He didn’t miss a class, and he didn’t miss an assignment. He progressed so well and helped others.”

To learn more about the only CEA accredited Intensive English Program in the state of Tennessee, visit the program’s website at here.

TSU anticipates hundreds of new students following first freshman orientation

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Nearly 150 first-time freshmen recently attended orientation to learn more about the “Land of Golden Sunshine.” The May 19 orientation was the first of several sessions Tennessee State University will hold to introduce new, incoming, and transfer students to campus academics and life at the university.  Financial aid information, career development opportunities, student activities, disability services, and student conduct were among some of the areas available to provide information to students and their parents.

President Glenda Glover welcomes students and families to the first of several new student orientations in Kean Hall. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

“Welcome to Tennessee State University. I am glad you have chosen TSU for your college careers,” TSU President Glenda Glover told the gathering in Kean Hall on the main campus. “You join students and alumni who have gone on to be trail blazers. I was here at TSU and sat in these same seats in which you are sitting today. My charge to you is to be diligent, pursue excellence, be your best and do your best. You will enjoy being a student here, you will study, you will learn, you will excel. We will help you to be the best and to be successful.”

Rheagan Reid, from Charlotte, North Carolina, who plans to major in biology, and Elijah Ware, a commercial music major from Nashville, and their parents, were among the first who arrived for the orientation. They were moved by the president’s message.

Reagan Reid, with her father, Nate, left, and mom Cheyenne, right, said she was drawn to TSU because of the school’s family atmosphere. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

“She made me feel very comfortable,” said Reid, a graduating senior from Merancas Middle College High School in Huntersville, North Carolina, who said she was drawn to TSU because of its “family” atmosphere. “The first time I visited TSU I immediately fell in love with the school. I love their programs. I am ready to leave home and TSU is where I want to be.”

For Ware, he is coming to TSU on a full ride scholarship and plans to be a part of the university’s Air Force ROTC program. He was enlisted in the program in 2022 and will be going to basic training on May 31.

Elijah Ware, who’s coming to TSU as part of the Air Force ROTC program, gets advice on course selection from Terrance Felker, Academic Enrichment Programs Coordinator and Advisor. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

“I have always heard about this school. I come to homecoming and always enjoy myself and I am looking forward to what I can learn here to prepare me for my future,” said Ware. “Before I got my scholarship to come to TSU, they (Air Force) came to my school and talked to me about the military. So, I enlisted, and I have been going to the training since. I want to know all I can about the military while I am here TSU and see where that takes me.”

Terrance Izzard, associate vice president for Enrollment Management and Student Success, said orientation is intended to give students the opportunity to familiarize themselves with available resources, individuals, departments, programs, and activities that will help them in their college careers. On stage with him were individuals representing Academic Affairs, Student Affairs, First-Year Experience, and Admissions and Recruitment, among others.

Terrance Izzard, Associate Vice President of Enrollment Management and Student Success, and scholarship coordinators, left, discuss funding opportunities with students and parents. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

“TSU is a family,” he said. “I want you to be very attentive. While you are here today, the people you see here today are the people who will help you along your journey while you are at TSU. So, when it comes to your classrooms, faculty members or anything that deals with your programs of study, even unto graduation, these are the people who will guide you. You will get to build relationship. It’s all about building relationships.”

Following a joint and then separate student and parent assemblies in Kean Hall, the two groups were escorted by student ambassadors on tours across campus, culminating with an “AMA (Ask Me Anything) Session” in various locations, where individuals received one-on-one interactions with academic advisors, deans, program leaders to get answers to questions that they may not have had the time to address in the group sessions.”

Isabelle Langham, Director of Advisement and Student Transition, speaks to a new freshman and her mother during a one-on-one meeting at the AMA session in the Health Sciences Building. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Among many key areas of concern at the AMA was academic advising – making sure students make the right decision when it came to course selection. Officials said before Friday’s orientation, a lot of proactive efforts had been made to prepare students to be ready by the start of class. For instance, since early April, the Office of Student Success has been hosting in-person and virtual sessions with parents and students to get them better prepared.

“And so, the nature of our (AMA) meeting today was to give feedback, allow parents and students to ask questions, answer some of those questions that may not be clear from those virtual sessions,” said Isabelle Langham, director of Advisement and Student Transitions. “Today’s efforts were easier because of the proactive efforts we have made. I think that we are definitely headed in the right direction in making sure that they (students) are ready before Day 1.”

Undradge Jamison, an incoming architectural engineering major, says he plans to engage in competitive gaming at TSU. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Another major attraction at Friday’s AMA session was a display by the university’s award-winning Academic eSports and Smart Technology Center,  which set up video games and robotics for gamers and other enthusiasts, in the new Health Sciences Building, to the excitement of visiting students and parents.

“This is super exciting,” said Undradge Jamison, an incoming architectural engineering major, from Stewart Creek High School in Smyrna, Tennessee. “I have not gamed competitively in the past, but I think TSU is giving me the chance to do just that.”

Few visiting parents and new students test their skills at virtual reality gaming, at the eSports display. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

In November, a program developed by the university using 5G technology to recruit and retain underserved students in the STEM field, won first place in the inaugural T-Mobile “Unconventional” Awards for innovation in customer experience, in Nevada, Las Vegas. 

The next orientation, for transfer students, is scheduled for May 26, also kicking off in Kean Hall.

TSU music business program gives students access to industry executives and artists

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – In the first week of the music business accelerator program at Tennessee State University, the class is already exposing students to powerhouse executives, talent agencies, and music artists. Through this firsthand experience, TSU students are gaining valuable insight into the music industry.

Students erupted in applause when High Standardz/Def Jam Recordings artist and actress CoCo Jones walked into the room. Jones gained recognition after her leading role in the 2012 Disney Channel movie “Let It Shine.” She currently portrays Hilary Banks in “Bel-Air,” Peacock’s modern take on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” She has also released her major label debut album last year, titled “What I Didn’t Tell You.” 

Music artist CoCo Jones speaks with TSU students about her upbringing in Tennessee and becoming an artist. (Photo by 353mediagroup)

The Lebanon, Tennessee native told students she was excited to share her music journey and to spread knowledge as a young Black artist and actress.

“It’s important to have classes like these because there’s so much opportunity in music that doesn’t stem from just being a rapper or a singer,” Jones said.

“I want to shed some light and share information that’s helpful for the next young Black person trying to make it in this industry.”

Jones shared stories of her upbringing in Lebanon and jump-starting her career in the music industry. She discussed navigating the ever-changing landscape of the business and staying faithful throughout her journey. The students were enthused by Jones’ insights and wisdom, and eagerly asked her questions.

“This has been phenomenal,” said Logyn Rylander, a music business major from Philadelphia. “It’s everything I could ever ask for in a class. I’m talking to people who do what I want to do.” Rylander looks forward to going into artist development after graduation this fall. “I had a small taste of my career.”

Students discussing a brand marketing plan during their music business class. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

In addition to meeting with Jones, TSU students  participated  in interactive class activities with Jones’ manager, Lydia Asrat, Def Jam’s Vice President Naim McNair, Vice President of marketing Charlene Thomas, and Willie “Prophet” Stiggers with the Black Music Action Coalition.

Emmanuel “Mille Manny” Strickland of Memphis said the music business class has been an eye-opener. “The things we are learning are things I am going to need to know in my day-to-day career as an R&B artist.” Strickland is a junior studying business information systems and is pursuing a career as a singer and songwriter.

Jamea Kollie asking CoCo Jones a question about music collaborations. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

Strickland’s cohorts are just as impressed with the overall program. They will also spend time with representatives from Tri-Star Entertainment Agency, Live Nation Entertainment, Rolling Loud, Wasserman Media Group, and Def Jam Recordings. The group is also exposed to different facets of the music and entertainment industry every day during their Maymester class. 

Jamea Kollie, a sophomore from Detroit studying mass communications, was a part of the music class’s first cohort in 2022 and said she will cherish the connections she made. “It was amazing last year. I met so many people who so happened to look like me as well and represent the Black community,” Kollie said. “These powerhouses of the industry are being such advocates; that’s very inspirational.”

From left to right; students Joshua Akhidenor, Emmanuel Strickland, and Link Fisher listening to Def Jam executives speak about the music industry. (Photo courtesy Tennessee State University)

Dr. Mark Crawford, the coordinator of commercial music for the university, said the goal is getting exposure and more opportunities for students at HBCUs. “As an educator, this means a lot,” Crawford said. “They are meeting professionals, visiting these places, and understanding the business of music. One goal is to try to provide internship opportunities for underrepresented demographics and HBCUs,” he said.

From discussing marketing to record label deals to artists and repertoire, the students are developing a deep appreciation for the art of music and the business behind it. “This is like the answer to an unspoken prayer; this is exactly what we need for the students,” Crawford said.

For more information about the music business accelerator program, reach Dr. Crawford at [email protected].

U.S. lawmaker urges TSU graduates to help protect democracy and give back

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – United States Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, the man who led the congressional investigation into the January 6 attack on the U.S. Capitol, told Tennessee State University graduate school candidates to be aware of forces that are trying to change the course of democracy in the country by twisting facts and reality to suit their personal agendas.

President Glenda Glover and U.S. Congressman Bennie G. Thompson lead the procession at the spring graduate commencement in the Gentry Center Complex. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Before Congressman Thompson’s address in the Howard C. Gentry Complex, TSU President Glenda Glover congratulated the graduates, parents, relatives, and friends for their support. 

“I applaud you for having reached this milestone,” said Glover. “Today is only a steppingstone. We thank you. We salute you.”

 Thompson, a civil rights champion, who represents Mississippi’s Second Congressional District in the U.S. House of Representatives, was the keynote speaker at TSU’s graduate commencement. 

 Now serving his 15th term in Congress, Thompson reminded the graduates to make the best of their education and remember to give back to their institution to ensure its continued growth and success.

More than 200 graduate students received advance degrees in various disciplines. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

 “So, for this institution and other historically black colleges and universities to survive in these turbulent times, you are going to have to support it,” he said. “Some of you will become doctors, lawyers, or whatever, but unless you understand what you are faced with right now and what you need to do in this country it is all for naught, because if graduates don’t come back and help, these institutions are in trouble.”

Marque Griggs, who received his Ph.D. in psychology, took Thompson’s message to heart.

Marque Griggs, who received his Ph.D. in psychology, says there are no shortcuts in working for equality. (Photo by Ramona Whitworth)

 “The Hon. Bennie Thompson spoke truth to power and did not mince words,” said Griggs, of Fort Valley, Georgia. “He reminded me of the work in my respective field that I do and must continue to do. There are no shortcuts in working for equality and equity for HBCUs and minority spaces.”

 Gwendolyn Berry, a two-time Olympian, who received her master’s degree in public health, referred to Thompson as a “good fighter.” The St. Louis, Missouri, native is an American track and field athlete who specializes in the hammer throw. Her mark of 77.78 meter on June 8, 2018, ranks her #7 on the all-time list. She also holds the world record in the weight throw with a mark of 25.60-meter set in March 2017. 

 Friday was her first time marching in a graduation ceremony. From high school to college, her athletic commitment each time has not permitted to take part in previous ceremonies.

Gwendolyn Berry referred to Congressman Thompson as a “good fighter.” Photo by Ramona Whitworth)

“This is my first time marching, and I am excited that my family is here with me,” Berry said.

 “Congressman Thompson is about a good fight and that is what he demonstrated in his speech. Although people don’t want to hear it, but it is always going to prevail because the people always prevail.”

 For two years, Thompson led a bipartisan committee to conduct a thorough investigation into the facts, circumstances, and causes of the attack, and to ensure that it never occurs again.

 “In that work, we outlined the dangerous symptoms that we have in this country when people tell things that are not true and repeated it often enough to sometime people believe that it is true,” Thompson told the graduates. “Some people even say what you saw on January 6th really didn’t happen. By obtaining your advance degrees, I compliment you on making sure that you understand the realities of what’s happening in our country.”

Following his address, President Glover conferred the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters on Rep. Thompson. More than 200 graduates received advance degrees in various disciplines.

TSU’s Oprah Winfrey inspires students with powerful commencement address

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Oprah! Oprah! Oprah! That was the deafening chant that permeated the 12,000-seat Hale Stadium on Saturday, as Oprah Winfrey, Tennessee State University’s most famous alumnus made her triumphant return to her alma mater as the spring undergraduate commencement speaker. The throng of exciting fans poured onto the field trying to touch, get a glimpse of Winfrey or take selfies with the former student who has gone onto to gain fame as a global media leader, philanthropist, producer, actress and author. Oprah’s speech later did not disappoint either, as many jubilant graduates, parents, alumni, and others spoke about being inspired by one of the most respected and admired figures in the world.

Lauren Graves, who graduated with honors, carries the banner for her college at the spring undergraduate commencement. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

TSU President Glenda Glover, at end of Winfrey’s speech, conferred on her the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters, as a mark of respect and honor from her university.

“Oprah is really here at my graduation, wow! This is the most exciting moment of my life,” said Lauren Graves, of Louisville, Kentucky, who received her degree in social work. “I think it is awesome to be able to see someone as successful as Oprah come back and celebrate and inspire the next generation of successful individuals. It was an honor to be able to see her today, and to know that I am part of an alumni that include her.”

Kenneth Rolle II, outgoing president of the Student Government Association and urban studies major, couldn’t hold his excitement.

Kenneth Rolle II says he is inspired by Oprah’s accomplishment and can’t wait to follow in her footstep. (photo by Aaron Grayson)

“I am motivated and inspired,” he said. “Dr. Winfrey just gave a great motivational speech about moving forward and how not to let obstacles get in our way. She gave her testimony about the obstacles she faced at TSU and how she was able to overcome them. I am very blessed to be able to follow in her footstep being a TSU alum. I can’t wait to have similar impact on the world post-graduation.”

“This has been a long time coming and to top it with Oprah, is mind blowing,” added Jada Carter, of Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who received her degree in accounting. “I am very excited. This feels so unreal. I love to see Oprah. She is very influential. I really look up to her. She is a very phenomenal individual. She gave an outstanding commencement speech.”

Jada Carter’s parents, mother Viola, left, and dad Henry, say bringing back Oprah as their daughter’s graduation speaker was an added motivation. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

Jada’s parents, father Henry, and mom Viola, made the long trek from Milwaukee to see their daughter walk across the stage, but knowing that Oprah would be the speaker was an extra motivation, they said.

“Tennessee State has been an incredible opportunity for our daughter and bringing back Oprah as the speaker for ger graduation, is incredible and awesome,” said Viola Carter. “It is amazing that she shows the students how many opportunities are available to them. This lets our children know the greatness that they can become.”

Regina Rogers says she will apply Oprah’s speech to her life. (photo by Aaron Grayson)

“Oprah’s commencement speech was inspiring and one that will help guide us to our next level of life,” added Regina Rogers, of Nashville. She earned her degree in arts and science. “I really love her speech. I am going to take her speech and apply it to my life from here on.”

More than 600 undergraduates received degrees in various disciplines. Watch the commencement ceremony from on the TSU YouTube Channel at https://www.youtube.com/live/vJEbMmyKG5U?feature=share.

Oprah Winfrey returns to TSU for commencement, full circle moment for all 

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University welcomed its most famous alumnus, Oprah Winfrey, with open arms to deliver the 2023 Spring Commencement address. Winfrey began her remarks by declaring “who says you can’t go home again, because I’m back” to the delight of the crowd. She also shared that TSU President Glenda Glover’s persistence paid off and was the reason for her appearance.  

“Dr. Glover is the reason why I’m here, because she is relentless,” Winfrey said. Turning to President Glover, she added, “You actually don’t know the meaning of no. She’s been here a decade and has been asking me for a decade.”  

 Regina Rogers, who earned a degree in arts and science, says she will make Oprah Winfrey’s inspiring words a part of her everyday life. (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

Winfrey then went into a rendition of the University’s fight song, “I’m so glad I go to TSU”, a gesture that brought several graduates to their feet, while the crowd cheered her on through the course.  The global media leader and Nashville native’s message was simple but impactful, be good to people. 

“This is what I know for sure. There will never be anything in your life as fulfilling as making a difference in somebody else’s,” Winfrey said.

“Everybody here wants to see you take your integrity, your curiosity, your creativity, your guts, and this newfound education of yours and use it to make a difference. Everybody always thinks you got go and do something big and grand. I tell you where you start. You start by being good to at least one other person every single day. Just start there.”

TSU President Glover believed Winfrey’s return was an amazing experience for students and a historical moment for the University.

“Oprah Winfrey is a phenomenal individual who embodies everything her alma mater, TSU, represents and was able to translate that to our graduates,” said President Glover. “I was excited to watch as she touched the spirit of students. They listened, applauded, while soaking in her knowledge.”

Barbara Murrell, right, was the director of student activities at TSU when Oprah Winfrey, left, was a student.

Regina Rogers, who earned her degree in arts and science, said Winfrey’s message was taken to heart and is words to live by. Rogers was among more than 600 TSU graduates sitting in awe of Winfrey and hanging on her every word.

“Oprah’s commencement speech was inspiring and one that will help guide us to our next level of life,” added Rogers, of Nashville. “I really loved her speech. I am going to take her speech and apply it to my life from here on.”

 Former TSU administrator Barbara Murrell says that’s the Oprah she remembers, always willing to lend her talents to help and inspire others, even as a student.

 “As Director of Student Activities at TSU when Oprah was a student, I was often asked to provide a student who could speak at University events,” recalls Murrell.  

“I would call Dr. W. Dury Cox, TSU’s outstanding Speech and Drama Professor, and he would send Oprah Winfrey to do a reading or recite a poem for the occasion.  She was always articulate, intriguing, and thought-provoking in her delivery. Her message was extremely well received by the audience.”

 Murrell, who now serves as chair of the Dr. Levi Watkins, Jr. Institute at TSU, says one performance comes to mind when she reflects on this full circle moment for the talented orator, who attended TSU from 1972-1975.

 “Our student center, during that time, served as a meeting place for the community. A professional women’s club, who provided scholarships for students, would always ask for a student to come, and do a reading or presentation to the group.”

 She recalls Winfrey poetry reading touched the women so, that several were left in tears. Murrell says to hear her commencement address touched her as well.

 “These same characteristics are evident on her global platform today in which Tennessee State University helped to develop and nurture.”

Winfrey received her degree from TSU in 1988 after she was allowed to submit a paper and several of her tv show reels for credit. Now, 35 years later, Winfrey returned to her alma mater fully embraced for this full circle moment, from student to alumna and as commencement speaker.

Watch the TSU commencement ceremony on the University’s YouTube Channel at www.youtube.com/live/vJEbMmyKG5U?feature=share.

44-year-old blind TSU student defies the odds, graduates with economics degree

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Julian Walker lost his vision due to a Nashville car accident in 2012. Walker had to adapt quickly to the drastic changes in his life, from learning braille and using specialized software to relearning simple tasks. Despite being completely blind, the father of four never lost sight of his goals.

On Saturday 44-year-old Julian Walker graduated from Tennessee State University with a bachelor’s degree in economics, as the only blind student in the spring 2023 graduating class. “I am proud of myself,” said the Nashville native.

Julian Walker at graduation rehearsal in Gentry Center the day before he walked the stage, receiving his degree in economics.

“This isn’t entirely about me walking across the stage. A lot of this is for my children, so they can see that you can get a degree and finish school even if you are blind. I am just trying to give them motivation for their journey through college,” he said.

Walker has three sons and a daughter ages 12-16. “This is about my family.”

Walker began his college journey at Emory University right after high school but didn’t finish. In 2019, he received his associate’s degree from Nashville State Community College. “I need to complete what I started back then,” he said, referring to receiving his bachelor’s. “I wanted to see if I could go to school as a blind person.”

Walker is one of nearly 150 disabled students who are served on campus. He noted that TSU’s office of disability services always accommodated him, no matter the class. “Anytime I needed help, the office was right on top of it,” he said. “Even if it was moving around the buildings, they made sure if I needed assistance, they would walk around with me.”

The nontraditional student also mentioned that walking across the stage served as a reminder that people with disabilities are capable of earning their degree. “That’s where the fuel comes from every day,” he said. “We need to see more disabled people who are aware of these resources at TSU. They can do it too.”

In 2012, Walker underwent seven surgeries in an attempt to save his vision. In 2021, he fell and injured himself, causing two minor strokes. After recovering, he got back on track to reach his educational milestone. Dr. Anita McGaha, Director of the Office of Disability Services (ODS), said she is proud of Walker for not giving up on himself.

McGaha said that not only does Walker represent TSU as a graduate, but he represents other students with impairments as well. “There is learner variability,” McGaha said. “Just because you learn differently doesn’t mean you cannot succeed. Students cannot allow their disabilities to dictate their success.”

The ODS provides academic accommodations for students with documented disabilities such as mood disorders, cognitive disorders, and physical impairments. Gregory Morrissette, the office’s learning disability coordinator, meet with the students and discusses how their disability impacts their academic setting. Walker said that the accommodation has made his time at TSU seamless. “The TSU experience has been great,” he said, noting how closing out this chapter with a commencement speech from TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey was remarkable.

Walker’s journey is a prime example of perseverance and determination. Now, with a college degree under his belt, Walker looks forward to utilizing his degree for his local family business, Germantown Pub, or working for a disability services office in Nashville.

For more information about TSU’s Office of Disability Services, visit www.tnstate.edu/disabilityservices/.

Oprah Winfrey shares formula for success with TSU graduates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey returned to her alma mater on Saturday as the spring commencement speaker, the sky in Nashville was overcast, but it didn’t stop her from filling the atmosphere with hope and inspiration. Oprah Winfrey captivated over 600 graduates at her alma mater with a wise message about success, following your heart, dreaming big, and listening to “the still, small voice.”

“I know not what the future holds, but I know who holds the future,” Winfrey told the graduates.

President Glenda Glover and Oprah Winfrey holding hands walking into Hale Stadium (Photo by Aaron Grayson)

During her commencement address, Winfrey recalled living with her late father in East Nashville, attending college in the mid-1970s, and working multiple jobs. One of which was at News Channel 5 in Nashville, where she became the first Black female TV anchor at the station.

Winfrey told the story of how her media career was in full swing when she fell short of one credit needed to graduate. In 1986, she returned to submit her final paper and officially graduated from TSU shortly after earning her third Emmy award.

“Between the studying, the multiple jobs, and all that commuting back and forth, it took a little longer for me,” Winfrey said. “But I can promise you that you’re looking at a very proud graduate of the only state-funded historically Black university in Tennessee.”

As a global media leader, philanthropist, producer, actress, and author, Winfrey said she is often asked what the secret to success is. Her response: being guided by the light of God’s grace her entire life.

“It’s because I lean into his grace. Because life is always talking to us. When you tap into what it’s trying to tell you, you can begin to distill the still, small voice, which is always representing the truth of you from the noise of the world.”

TSU alumna Oprah Winfrey shares a special moment with the audience before her commencement address. (Photo by Jenai Hayes)

Winfrey told the class of 2023 that she has stepped into many rooms as one. The only woman, the only person of color, the one no one expected to be at the table, she said.

Although she stood as one, she stood tall with generations of people who have come before her.

“I come as one, I stand as 10,000 has been my mantra for power,” she said. “God can dream a bigger dream for you than you can ever imagine for yourself. I am living testimony of aligning and living his dream.”

She noted that the graduating class of 2023 is stepping into a world that currently sees difficult times. The class will meet people who will unfortunately insist that “it’s not actually possible to make any real difference,” she said.

As the students turned their tassels from right to left, Winfrey told the crowd that making the next life decision can be frightening. But she gave students a nine-word prayer stated by the late Nelson Mandela”: “Let your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.”

TSU student-athlete to graduate with 4.0 GPA, along with two degrees and an OVC championship

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – For three years, Gina Rivera-Ortiz’s parents would drive two hours to get her to volleyball practice, in her native territory of Puerto Rico. Dedication that has paid off in the long run with Rivera-Ortiz’s becoming a decorated libero, a back-row defensive specialist, for Tennessee State University volleyball team. Add to her accomplishment an Ohio Valley Conference (OVC) championship and OVC tournament MVP in 2022 for the TSU Tigers.

Last season, Rivera-Ortiz became the all-time career leader in TSU history in digs.

Not only has Rivera-Ortiz, a TSU graduate student, put blood, sweat and tears on the court, she has put her all into her education as well.

“Since pre-kindergarten I’ve never passed a class with anything less than an A,” she said. “My parents raised me to want to be the best. I use my parents as motivation. I know they sacrificed for me to be who I am today.”

Rivera-Ortiz will be graduating this week with a master’s of arts and education in sports administration with a 4.0 GPA. She also had a 4.0 while attending TSU as an undergraduate.

For Rivera-Ortiz, volleyball is like a game of chess on a court, where every move counts. She told the university her main key factors on strategizing how to succeed in being a student athlete.

“Time management, discipline, and passion,” Rivera-Ortiz said. “Everything I do, I do it with passion. Be humble but use that drive of thinking you’re the best and working to be the best.”

Rivera-Ortiz, left, with Coach Sutton, right during a home conference match in Kean Hall at TSU.

TSU head volleyball coach Donika Sutton couldn’t agree more about Rivera-Ortiz’s work ethic as an athlete and person.

“Gina has realistically surpassed expectations,” Sutton said. “We are talking about someone who all five years has had a 4.0 GPA.”

Coach Sutton said she recruited Rivera-Ortiz from Lajas, Puerto Rico, and offered her a scholarship in 2018. Since that time, Sutton has watched her continuously grow every year.

“She helped me lead this team. The ability, the work ethic and her leadership were a huge part as to why this team was successful this year.”

Rivera-Ortiz after the TSU volleyball team won the OVC Tournament championship in 2022.

The TSU volleyball team won the OVC Tournament last November for the first time in 15 years. Out of the 132 games, Rivera-Ortiz never missed one. The international student said she is most grateful for TSU’s welcoming environment, that helped her succeed while being 1,700 miles away from home.  

“This was a place that made me feel the most wanted. That’s one of the things that kept me here.”

Rivera-Ortiz has already accepted a job offer at local non-profit organization Backfield in Motion, as a senior youth coordinator. The job aligns with her dream career related to community engagement for the NBA.

While Rivera-Ortiz was a part of the Puerto Rico women’s national under-23 volleyball team last year, she looks forward to one day competing for a spot on the Olympic volleyball team after obtaining a doctorates degree in psychology.

Check out the Puerto Rico native’s stats and recent accolades as the all-time OVC leader in career digs and in TSU history.

Promise of new jobs, Oprah Winfrey perfect ending for TSU’s spring graduates

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – When Darius Boyd dons his cap and gown at TSU’s spring commencement on Saturday, he will receive his bachelor’s degree in business information systems with an extra level of hope and satisfaction. That’s because Boyd will hear inspiring words from TSU’s most famous alumnus, Oprah Winfrey, and have a job waiting on him once he crosses the stage. His early employment is also an indication of the bright jobs market many experts predict for 2023 college graduates. 

Darius Boyd is expected to receive a starting salary of about $90,000 as a business analyst at Bank of America.

“I am very excited to have a job waiting for me right out of college,” says Boyd, who has been hired as a business analyst in the technology department at Bank of America. “I am excited and blessed to have the opportunity to have the skill set to work at a company such as Band of America, and to have Ms. Oprah Winfrey as my commencement speaker to end my college career at TSU is mind-blowing.”  

Boyd is not alone with a job waiting and excitement as he awaits the ceremony. He is one of six yet to receive their degrees out of the spring graduating class who have already been hired by BOA in high-paying positions, with salaries ranging from $75,000-$95,000 and a guaranteed $10,000 signing bonus each. But that’s not all. Many others from the class of 2023, from internships, co-ops to fulltime employment, have jobs lined up. 

Jackson Tyler Houston received his job offer as a consultant at CGI at the end of his internship.

Jackson Tyler Houston, of Brentwood, Tennessee, who will receive his bachelor’s degree in computer science, has a job offer waiting for him at CGI (Consultants in Management and Information Technology), one of the largest IT and business consulting firms in the world. He’s being hired as a consultant. 

“It is fantastic leaving college with a send-off from the one and only Oprah Winfrey and having a job lined,” says Houston.  “I can’t wait to hear her messages, but to have a job already was a huge relief off my shoulders going into my final semester and not have to worry about finding an employment.” 

Houston, who interned with CGI up to his senior year of college, received an offer after he finished the program and credits TSU for the early employment. 

Angela Davis, Assistant Director of the Career Development Center, says the center uses different platforms to connect students with employers. (Photo by TSU Media Relations)

“I must thank TSU and my professors who gave me the opportunity to pursue the job in the first place,” he says.

While many analysts see a booming jobs market for 2023 college graduates, at TSU, students credit their success to rigorous classroom and field training, passionate professors, and a Career Development Center that is focused on preparing and exposing students to available opportunities. 

Angela Davis, assistant director of the CDC, says in addition to career fairs, training and other events, the department utilizes different job search platforms such as Handshake to connect employers with students. 

“We cover topics such as resume preparation, creating a brand, preparing for the interview, soft skills in the workplace, how to navigate a career fair, as well as opportunities that are available within those companies,” says Davis.  

Jada Carter, who is receiving her degree in accounting, will work with Bank of America as an enterprise risk credit analyst.

“We also hold Table-Top sessions throughout the semester.  Each event provides students the opportunity to engage with employers for employment opportunities.” 

Overall, TSU students graduating this year are in a good mix when it comes to hiring. A study published by the National Association of Colleges and Employers shows that employers are looking to hire more 2023 graduates than in 2022. Another NAEC survey released just recently, shows that undergraduates are receiving an average of 1.14 job offers before graduation. 

“This has been a long four years, but with a very exciting ending,” says Jada Carter, also eluding Winfrey and secured employment.

“I am ready to get out in the world and represent TSU because they have done a lot for me,” adds Carter. The Milwaukee native is also going to work for BOA as an enterprise risk credit analyst. 

“The Career Development Center has been very helpful. I have worked very closely with them in the last four years. This helped me to build professional relationships with recruiters and business partners. I’m leaving TSU on the right track, with a job and the best commencement speaker you could hope for, and a fellow TSU graduate.” 

Carter, and Boyd of Memphis, Tennessee, will be assigned at the BOA headquarters in Charlotte, North Carolina. They will be among more than 800 undergraduate and graduate students who will receive degrees at the 2023 spring commencement. 

Spring 2023 commencement 

Tennessee State University alumna Oprah Winfrey is coming home to headline TSU’s Spring Commencement as the keynote speaker for the undergraduate Commencement on Saturday, May 6 at 8 a.m. CDT, in Hale Stadium. Due to demand, security and safety protocols, this is a ticketed event. The undergraduate ceremony will be moved to the Gentry Center Complex in case of rain. United States Congressman Bennie G. Thompson, Miss-Second District, will address graduate students at an indoor ceremony on Friday, May 5 at 5 p.m. CDT, in the Gentry Center. Both commencement ceremonies will be live streamed from the TSU YouTube Channel, www.tnstate.edu/livestream

For more information on TSU 2023 Spring Commencement and full bios on Ms. Winfrey and Congressman Thompson, visit www.tnstate.edu/commencement.