TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the main event all college students anticipate: graduation. That moment of walking across the stage and receiving a diploma didn’t happen for so many, but that reality is slowly returning for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).
Florida A&M University student-athlete Kailya Jackson, 22, a senior guard for the Rattlers, is grateful she was able to finally experience graduation. Saturday’s ceremonies mark the beginning of the HBCU graduation season as commencements begin at the 100-plus institutions.
- Below is a list of all HBCU graduations
“I’m so happy and I feel really good. It’s been a long time coming and it’s been a very trying time for me, so I’m excited that this moment is finally here,” said Jackson.
The FAMU Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center was half full as hundreds gathered for the graduation commencement ceremony Saturday, and those attending followed strict safety precautions, ensuring everyone wore a mask. Each graduate was given four tickets for family members and friends to reduce the number of attendees.
Although Jackson was able to participate in her graduation, the pandemic stripped away her senior basketball season. That upheaval was a part of many students’ lives this last year, as the pandemic postponed 2020 graduations, canceled sports seasons, kept students from campuses, and tragically ended the lives of many African Americans.
Before attending FAMU, Jackson played at Charleston Southern University and Pensacola State College, both on athletic scholarships. During her journey chasing the sport she loves, Jackson decided she wanted to find a school where her journey would be unique.
That was at FAMU. After being recruited by former head women’s basketball coach Kevin Lynum, she believed that FAMU was the right place to finish out her collegiate career. Jackson, of Gainesville, Florida, played guard and forward for the Rattlers.
“FAMU exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I’ve been to two different colleges, with different experiences, but FAMU truly felt like home.”
During her time with the Rattlers, Jackson completed one season as a starter, with her biggest accomplishment scoring a season-high 24 points against the University of South Carolina Upstate in 2019. Three days before the past season was set to start, Jackson and her team were notified it would be canceled. The players had been training from July through November, including taking weekly COVID-19 tests.
Although Jackson never tested positive for COVID-19, she describes the process as very challenging, trying to balance school work and practicing during the pandemic.
“We started off getting tested once a week, it then became three and eventually every day. I was distraught when I found out the season was canceled. All my life I was used to being a student-athlete. Now I just had to be a student,” said Jackson.
Jackson received her degree in business administration Saturday and plans to pursue her MBA – and to potentially play basketball again.
Saturday’s ceremonies were for 2021 graduates – FAMU plans separate ceremonies for 2020 grads in July – who were encouraged to not only leave their mark on the university but to reflect on the investment they have made in themselves.
“It’s been a challenge to stay healthy, but you have risen,” said university president Larry Robinson. “During this last year, you have progressed through unprecedented times and I thank you for joining us on this fight to help protect the family. You have demonstrated what can be accomplished by simply pushing forward and never giving up.”
Commencement speaker Brian Lamb, a member of the state board of governors for the university system, left the class of 2021 with four tools to carry with them through life.
“There are four tools you need on your journey in life. The first tool to grab when you reach into your bag is being prepared,” said Lamb. “Also, have the tool of relationships in your bag. You must invest in one another. Another tool is to find the intersection of your passion and, lastly, always protect the tool of your reputation.”
’21 HBCU graduations and commencements
Alabama A&M University
Alabama State University
Albany State University
Alcorn State University
American Baptist College
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Arkansas Baptist College
Bishop State Community College
Bluefield State College
Bowie State University
Central State University
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
Clark Atlanta University
Coahoma Community College
Coppin State University
Delaware State University
Denmark Technical College
University of the District of Columbia
Edward Waters College
Elizabeth City State University
Fayetteville State University
Florida A&M University
Florida Memorial University
Fort Valley State University
Gadsden State Community College
Grambling State University
Harris-Stowe State University
Hinds Community College at Utica
Interdenominational Theological Center
J. F. Drake State Technical College
Jackson State University
Jarvis Christian College
Johnson C. Smith University
Johnson C Smith Theological Seminary
Kentucky State University
Lawson State Community College
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Meharry Medical College
Miles School of Law
Mississippi Valley State University
Morehouse School of Medicine
Morgan State University
Morris Brown College
Norfolk State University
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina Central University
Paul Quinn College
Payne Theological *
Philander Smith College
Prairie View A&M University
Savannah State University
Shelton State Community College
Simmons College of Kentucky
South Carolina State University
Southern University at New Orleans
Southern University at Shreveport
Southern University and A&M College
Southwestern Christian College
St. Augustine’s University
St. Philip’s College
Tennessee State University
Texas Southern University
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College
University of the Virgin Islands
Virginia State University
Virginia Union University
Virginia University of Lynchburg
West Virginia State University
Winston-Salem State University
Xavier University of Louisiana