Parents and loved ones gathered from around the world to witness students close a chapter on their educational journey at Alcorn State University.

Over 400 students earned their college degrees during Alcorn’s 2019 Spring Commencement Exercise Saturday, May 4 in the Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex. The new alumni departed the university with well wishes and encouraging words from Entergy Corporation CEO Leo Denault, who delivered the ceremonial address.

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Entergy’s leader began his speech by congratulating the graduates on their dedication to achieving their goals.

“You are college graduates,” said Denault. “You have earned your place among the 40 percent of Americans who have earned degrees. I applaud you and your drive, ambition, and perseverance.”

Love was the topic of Denault’s message to the graduates. He encouraged them to define what success means to them and then proceed to pursue their passion.

“The most important word in your career is love. You must figure out what success means to you. Once you find your answer, grow to love what you do. It is also important to love who you are working with and who you are working for.”

Developing bonds with fellow employees in the future was a trait that Denault motivated the graduates to remember when they enter the corporate world. He spoke on how critical it is to support their colleagues.

“Your co-workers are your family away from home. Make sure that you and your co-workers look out for each other and lift each other often. Motivate each other to do your best for the best results. Earn their trust and support them as they strive for excellence.”

Lastly, Denault inspired the graduates to remember those who support them, including Alcorn. He reminded them to give back to the university for providing them with a solid foundation.

“Never forget that they are real people with real dreams, so love the community you serve. Understand that those who invest in you are putting their trust in you. Alcorn has invested in you, so continue to invest in your alma mater with your time, talent, and money in the future.”

Interim President, Dr. Donzell Lee, concluded the ceremony by congratulating the students for reaching the pinnacle of their undergraduate and graduate pathways.

The graduates expressed their excitement for completing their educational milestone. Ayana Jones, a Natchez, Mississippi native who earned a bachelor’s degree in child development, was almost at a lost for words when describing her feelings about graduation. Because of the obstacles she’s had to hurdle, earning a degree is a special accomplish.

“It feels amazing to achieve a goal that I’ve been working on for years,” said Jones. “Initially, I was a nursing major, but I realized that the field wasn’t for me. So, I followed my true passion, which is working with children. So to overcome the obstacles is an indescribable feeling.”

Ro’Myrus Preston, who earned a bachelor’s degree in elementary education, reflected on the hours of dedication it took for him to become the first person in his family to graduate from a four-year university.

“It was a journey filled with hard work,” said Preston. “I had to juggle ROTC, take 22 credit hours in a semester, and overcome the pressure of passing state exams to receive my teaching certification in Mississippi. It was a hard fought battle, but it was worth it. I love Alcorn, and I’m so glad I chose to attend this university.”

Commencement featured other highlights during the celebration. A total of 81 members of Alcorn’s 1969 Golden Class took the stage to receive their golden diplomas.

Wilbert Jones, a board member for the ASU Foundation, Inc., presented Robert Tatum Jr., a Madison, Mississippi native who earned a bachelor’s degree in biochemistry and molecular biology, with the Award of Excellence, which includes a $1,000 check and a plaque of achievement from the Foundation. The award is the culmination of Tatum’s dedication to academic excellence.

“I was always told to do my best, and that’s what I strove to do,” said Tatum. “I thank God for giving me the strength to persevere through all eight semesters. Being in this position is a surreal feeling because it’s a prayer that has been answered. I’ve waited for a long time to share this day with my classmates that also worked hard to get to this point.”

Before Denault’s address to the graduates, Lee presented him with an honorary doctorate.

For the first time, three Alcorn alumni received the Alcornite of the Year Award. The Rev. Dr. Neddie Winters presented Fred McNair, Braves head football coach, Dr. Alfred Rankins Jr., commissioner of Higher Education for the state of Mississippi, and Senator Willie Simmons, who has served in the Mississippi State Senate for 26 years.