NASHVILLE, Tenn. (TSU News Service) – Award-winning journalist and former CNN anchor Don Lemon inspired nearly 700 Tennessee State University fall graduates with a few pieces of advice to carry the torch of TSU’s legacy into the world. The 2023 fall commencement took place in the Gentry Center Complex, filled with ecstatic graduates, their parents, and loved ones for their support on this academic journey.
“Today is your day,” Lemon told the crowd of graduates who were representing around 40 different countries. “It is truly an honor to be a part of this significant moment in your lives. As we reflect on the journey that has brought you to this point, I am reminded of the profound impact that this institution has on countless lives.”
Lemon then told students to embrace their authenticity and growth, build meaningful connections, and have faith in their journey. “Trust that each step, even when uncertain, is guided by a higher purpose.”
He noted that education is a lifelong journey, regardless of how long it takes.
After inspiring the graduates with his insightful advice, Lemon’s words resonated with the crowd from various countries. Among them was former NFL 2-time Pro Bowler, AFC and NFC Champion, Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie, who embodied Lemon’s message in a unique way.
After 11 years, Rodgers-Cromartie fulfilled his promise to his mother by continuing his journey of personal growth and securing a degree. The TSU standout received a bachelor’s degree in interdisciplinary studies from the College of Liberal Arts. “Never give up,” Rodgers-Cromartie said. “Finish those courses no matter how long it takes because at the end of the day, there are certain things in life they can’t take from you, and that would be one of them. I encourage everyone to come back and finish.”
Rodgers-Cromartie started his collegiate career as a cornerback for the TSU Tigers and was a first-round draft pick of the Arizona Cardinals in 2008. He played in the NFL for 11 years, and during each offseason, his mother continued to inquire about him finishing what he started. “I’m going to do this for my mother,” he said. “Since day one, my mother has always preached, ‘Student first before athlete.'”
Over a dozen of Rodgers-Cromartie’s family members were in the crowd to witness him walk across the stage to receive his degree. He started his TSU journey in 2004 as a psychology major and spoke highly of the university’s legacy and endless opportunities.
“TSU is my home away from home. They gave me an opportunity, and I am very appreciative of that. I really bleed blue,” said the TSU Tiger. When asked about being determined regardless of the time, Rodgers-Cromartie’s response, ‘be patient and see it through.’
Prior to Lemon’s speech, TSU President Glenda Glover, in her opening remarks, said that the achievement of graduating is only a stepping stone. “Today is only a stepping stone, and we should honor this moment as we move into our new lives,” Dr. Glover said.
“You are evident that your strengths are fearsome. Your persistence is relentless, your service is genuine, and your hearts are uncompromised.”
From TSU’s AOB becoming the first collegiate marching band to receive a Grammy Award, Lemon’s speech highlighted the university’s major accomplishments and milestones this year alone. Additionally, he spoke about having global mogul Oprah Winfrey as this past spring’s keynote speaker at her alma mater.
Lemon then reflected on TSU’s motto, ‘Think, Work, Serve,’ and gave students some advice to cherish for the rest of their lives. “Don’t shy away from challenges. Stand up against injustice and use your education as a tool for powerful transformation.”
While in the process of her educational journey, Dr. Pearl McKnight, who was sitting in the front row waiting for her doctorate degree, also had a powerful transformation that she considers a ‘medical miracle.’ After being paralyzed and wheelchair bound for nearly seven years due to a Cryptococcal Meningitis diagnosis, McKnight proudly walked across the stage to receive her doctorate degree in educational leadership.
The 59-year-old mother and wife said the moments felt surreal. “I didn’t need a ramp or wheelchair, I was able to walk across the stage,” McKnight said. “Coming in and walking down was very emotional for me.” McKnight was overwhelmed with joy as she heard her husband of 42-years, her children and grandchildren cheering her on as she walked the stage to receive her degree.
“I got my masters in a wheelchair so I figured that was going to be what a degree would be like for the rest of my life. So, it means so much to me to be able to walk across the stage.”
Just before Rodgers-Cromartie, McKnight and hundreds of other TSU students moved their tassels over on their decorated caps, Lemon was awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters Degree presented by President Glover and Interim Provost Dr. Robbie Melton.
Lemon anchored the long-running CNN primetime program, Don Lemon Tonight, as well as CNN This Morning. He has won a variety of distinguished awards for his work spanning nearly three decades, including an Edward R. Murrow award, multiple Emmys, and a Peabody award, among others. In addition to CNN, Lemon has served as an anchor and correspondent at the NBC and MSNBC television networks, as well as at local stations in New York, Philadelphia, Chicago, and St. Louis.