Michael Dyson makes a point during address.
Michael Eric Dyson, noted professor, author and radio host, served as the speaker for Winston-Salem State University’s (WSSU) commencement on Saturday, May 12, at the Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum.
Speaking before a capacity crowd of 1,200 graduates, their families and friends, Dyson delivered a powerful messaged themed around four points - think for yourself, act on your thoughts and ideas with integrity, love by opening yourself up to helping others, and the importance of personal growth.
Named by Essence magazine as one of the 40 most inspiring African Americans and by Ebony magazine as one of the 150 most powerful African Americans, Dyson delivered a powerful message to a capacity audience attending the ceremony.
An ordained Baptist minister at the age of 19, Dyson worked in Detroit factories to support his family before entering college as a freshman at the age of 21. He graduated magna cum laude from Carson-Newman College and earned his Master’s and Doctorate degrees in religion from Princeton University. In addition to his work as an author and radio host, Dyson is also a professor of sociology at Georgetown University where, in 2011, he received widespread attention for his course “Sociology of Hip-Hop: Jay-Z.”
Dyson, along with Judge Joseph D. Johnson and Dr. Merdis J. McCarter, were conferred honorary degrees.
A Profile of the Class of 2012
Recruited by three colleges to play football, Travis Taylor of Newberry, S.C. had dreams of a successful career in the NFL, but a devastating injury forced life changes, and kicked off a journey of personal growth and new found faith -- a common theme among many of the approximately 1,200 undergraduate and graduate students participating in WSSU’s 2012 Commencement.
A capacity crowd of more than 13,000 attended the 2012 graduation ceremony.
Taylor’s story is one that perhaps summarizes a class filled with faith, patience and personal growth. Commencement will symbolize his journey.
“I was on top of the world but I didn’t honor God, see his blessings and give Him his due. That injury was my wake-up call that stirred my faith and aligned me where I should be,” said Taylor.
Not being able to play football, he was worried that he would lose his athletic scholarship and direction regarding his future. When he felt nothing was going his way, he suddenly found himself surrounded by faculty and staff who cared and looked out for him. Soon, his athletic scholarship was replaced by an academic scholarship and he was in position to explore new careers.
In addition to academic encouragement, the career services office sent Taylor to a Thurgood Marshall College Fund Leadership Institute and Recruitment Fair which changed his life again. Between leadership classes, Taylor interviewed for a job with the CIA. He didn’t get the job, but the interviewer took a liking to him. Before long, Taylor received a call from the FBI. He went to Washington D.C. for tests and discovered he was the only African American there and the only person from a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). He passed the tests and will begin work for a special task force this summer.
Turns out, Taylor is in the career he should be, according to his family history. His father, grandfather, uncles and numerous cousins all work in law enforcement. He can’t imagine himself in another career.
“What I gained in this process is to make sure you have a plan B as strong as plan A and keep praying, pushing, fighting and never lose faith, because you never know how close you are to realizing your true dreams.”
Faithful Advocate For Education
Georgia Dunlap has seen a lot of things in her 88 years, but few will match the exuberance and pride she experienced when her great nephew walked across the Commencement stage.
A former elementary school teacher in the High Point Regional and Winston-Salem Forsyth County School Districts for 40 plus years, Dunlap always pushed every student to set goals to attend college.
“In her first, second and third grade classes she was selling, encouraging and pushing her students to go to college and just about every one else she is in contact with, without question, every one of them,” said her daughter, Eleanor Dunlap-Golden.
Now, Dunlap’s great nephew, Booker Tatum Wiggins, represents the third generation of WSSU graduates in her family. A 1944 graduate of WSSU, Dunlap went on to earn her master’s from New York University. Her daughter is a 1968 WSSU graduate who earned her master’s from NC A&T State University.
“Her spirits will leap from her WSSU red suit and soar far beyond her seat and walker,” said Dunlap-Golden. “She is so proud to see him (Wiggins) graduate as her great nephew and as an African American male, because she is aware that the number of Black males graduating college is declining nationwide.”
Wiggins, who graduated with honors, will go on to get his master’s degree in psychology from UNC Charlotte and wants to focus on helping reduce substance abuse, possibly among Black males. He realized he has bucked the African-American male graduation trend and wants to carry on his great-aunt's tradition to encourage other African-Americans.
Healing and Personal Growth
Martha McMurray, a management major from Matthews, NC, has an engaging and charming personality. Few could guess she has overcome a number of fears and challenges during her time at WSSU. Attacked by two pit bulls before her senior year in high school, she arrived on campus with physical and emotional scars in addition to episodes of memory loss. Saddled with embarrassment, anger and insecurities due to the trauma of the attack, nightmares and short-term memory loss, she was cautious of speaking to people.
A creative message. It's what's on the inside that counts.
“During my early days at WSSU, I couldn’t remember basic academic skills such as simple division, adding, multiplication or retain information for long periods of time. Sometimes I didn’t even recognize photos of people I knew and, because of that, I would keep my guard up,” said McMurray.
When she met her roommate and other students who were supportive, however, she started to enjoy the campus, school activities and even classes. She found a group of faculty and staff who have helped her triumph over challenges, even to work around the short-term memory loss which led her to achieving one of the highest grade point averages in her major.
After graduation she will begin a job as a territory manager at The Hershey Company. She said her new job represents her new lease on life, that she accomplished what she came to college for and more.
Setting New Standards
Candace Jolly, a senior rehabilitation major, recently received the inaugural Undergraduate Rehabilitation Student of the Year Award from the National Council on Rehabilitation Education (NCRE). In the past, the NCRE has only recognized a graduate student with an award. Jolly received this first undergraduate award at the NCRE annual conference in San Francisco recently. Nominees met certain academic criteria as well as demonstrated outstanding service, leadership and advocacy.
Jolly has spent several semesters on the Dean’s list and was selected as a rehabilitation studies program student of the month. She completed her practicum at the Centers for Exceptional Children and had an internship at The Enrichment Center. Additionally, Jolly participated as a research assistant for a grant-funded project and co-presented with WSSU faculty Dr. Paige Dunlap at a local conference.
Two graduating soloists who will perform with the WSSU Choir during commencement are both confident about their unique future goals.
Simone Alcorn of Bowie, MD, a music business major, is interviewing for sales and marketing positions, but really wants to be an opera singer. She plans to use her sales and marketing experience to sell her singing talents until she reaches her goal.
“I always had a passion for music and that started as far back as I can remember,” noted Alcorn, a mezzo-soprano. “Since I was very young, I was singing anything and everything I could. I sang so much, my parents and relatives were always telling me to be quiet.”
A performance at a high school cabaret became a major turning point for her family and friends. After that, no one told her to be quiet anymore. When Alcorn heard the WSSU Choir perform in Washington D.C., she decided that’s where she would attend college. While a member the WSSU Choir, Woman’s Chorus and Burke Singers, she has performed with the Winston-Salem Symphony and singer Patti Austin, at Carnegie Hall and in Ghana, West Africa.
Brandon Gaines, a music business major from Greensboro, has already started his own company, AG Music Inc. The business is currently a non-profit, which allows him and his gospel group, Voices of the Kingdom, to perform at community events. But the tenor hopes to see his business grow after graduation.
“Eventually I see myself owning a record label and recording studio,” said Gaines, who has performed in the University Choir, University Men, and with the Schola Cantorum while at WSSU.Gaines began singing at age three and by nine he had a “calling” to be a gospel singer. At 18, he was a noted local performer and last year, at age 23, a licensed minister at Christ Cathedral Church of Deliverance in Winston-Salem. As part of the exclusive 105 Voices of History, a national choir featuring singers from all of the Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs) in the country, Gaines has performed in Nassau, Bahamas and at the Kennedy Center where he was a featured soloist. Gaines also recently auditioned for the popular BET gospel singing competition show Sunday Best.