TSU celebrates 2020 graduates with first-ever virtual commencement ceremony

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Tennessee State University celebrated its Class of 2020 with a historic virtual commencement Saturday. More than 700 graduates and undergraduates were honored during the program.

President Glenda Glover

TSU President Glenda Glover greeted the graduates and welcomed alumni, staff and guests watching the program livestreamed on all the major social media platforms.

“It is my distinct honor and privilege to extend heartfelt congratulations to you,” Glover said. “I applaud you for having reached this extraordinary milestone in your academic career. It does not matter how long it took you, you are being honored today because you are graduating. You have endured. We honor your sacrifice. You have overcome obstacles, you have multiplied your talent, you increased your resources.”

Dr. Harold Love, Jr.

State Rep. Harold Love, Jr., a TSU alum, who brought the keynote address, told the graduates that while COVID-19 has been a hindrance to many things, they must reflect on their achievement as a successful story during this time.

“Many years from now, when we look back on 2020, we will reflect on the bright spots and good things we can point to as an indicator that COVID-19 did not completely eliminate the wonderful things of life,” said Love, who earned bachelor’s and doctorate degrees from TSU.

“In that moment, you will be able to declare that ‘yes,’ COVID-19 caused the world to change how we interact with each other, but in the midst of all of that, you graduated from college. Your gifts and graces are desperately needed to make this world a better place. Like so many before you, you heard the clarion call to enter, to learn, and to go forth to serve with an education you received from Tennessee State University. Don’t let the 24-hour news circle cause you to have fear about what you will do next. Use that creative mind to discover cures, educate the next generation, or help someone else cope with the challenge of life.”

SGA President Katelyn Thompson

Although the delivery was different, the commencement exercises remained generally the same. The program began with a slideshow of the graduates, followed by a presentation by Student Government Association President Katelyn Thompson.

“We did it,” said Thompson, a Memphis native and double major, who received degrees in criminal justice and psychology.

“Four years ago, we took our first step as first-year students at this prestigious university. As we matriculated though our journey, we were blessed with additions to our family. Congratulations to each of you. TSU has taught us to be resilient in the face of adversity. Although we had such an abrupt stop to our day-to-day campus life, we still had the fight, the vision and the determination to accomplish this milestone.”

Tommy Evans of Belleville, Illinois, said he missed walking across the stage, but is appreciative to TSU for making sure that students received recognition another way. 

Orica Kutten received the Academic Excellence Award for the high GPA in her class.

“I’m excited, because either way, we’re being celebrated for our accomplishments,” said Evans, a criminal justice major and senior class vice president. 

Seliene Munroe Bignall, who received her doctorate in education administration, agreed. 

“I feel very, very blessed,” said Bignall of Nashville. “It has been a long journey, especially with what’s going on here and around the world.”

During the ceremony, Orica Kutten, who received her bachelor’s degree in biology, received the Academic Excellence Award for achieving the highest grade point of average in her class.

Amid the coronavirus pandemic, the job outlook for college graduates might seem a bit disheartening because of the financial hardship businesses are enduring, but many Tennessee State University students say they are optimistic about their future because of how TSU has prepared them.

“My chances look good and I am keeping my hopes up,” said Evans. “In criminal justice, there is always a process which I am going through, such as the background check. But beyond that, I know I am prepared after going through a very rigorous program during my four years at TSU.”

Like Evans, fellow graduate Damyr Moore, who earned a degree in mass communications and integrated marketing, said while he has not landed a job, he is making the necessary connections and believes “something will come up soon.”

“With everything going on right now, I am just trying to stay focused and prepared,” said Moore, of Atlanta, who is the outgoing Mister TSU. He is looking for employment in marketing, public relations, web design, or graphic design.

Reports show that the Class of 2020 has a particularly difficult time ahead in navigating the tough job market, made more uncertain with the outbreak. The overall unemployment rate was 11 percent in June — that number jumps to 19.8 percent for those age 20-24, according to the Bureau of Labor Statistics. However, employment and career experts say adequate preparation is always the best tool to help get a job.

Antoinette Hargrove Duke, the associate director of the Career Development Center at TSU, said in addition to helping students prepare for the job market, such as through interview coaching, internship search, and career assessments, the center uses different platforms to keep students and companies connected.

“We work with many companies and franchisees throughout the year to prepare our students through internships, co-ops, and employment opportunities,” said Duke. “We are committed to our students and will continue to prepare them for working in any corporation.”

The University is set to reopen on August 17 under a comprehensive plan that officials say will provide additional COVID-19 safety protocols to protect the health and safety of the campus community. To learn more about TSU’s campus operation plans for fall reopening, visit www.tnstate.edu/return.

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About Tennessee State University

Founded in 1912, Tennessee State University is Nashville’s only public university, and is a  premier, historically black university and land-grant institution offering 39 bachelor’s degree programs, 24 master’s degree programs, and seven doctoral degrees.  TSU is a comprehensive research intensive institution with a R-2 Carnegie designation, and has a graduate school on its downtown Avon Williams Campus, along with the Otis Floyd Nursery Research Center in McMinnville, Tennessee.  With a commitment to excellence, Tennessee State University provides students  with a quality education in a nurturing and innovative environment that prepares them as alumni to be global leaders in every facet of society. Visit the University online at tnstate.edu.