By Vernon A. Williams
In the book of Jeremiah, Chapter 29 and Verse 11, comes a promise from God:
“For I know the thoughts that I think about you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace and not evil, to give you a future and a hope.”
Normally around this time of the year on the campus of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis, our hearts are filled with joy, poised to celebrate another graduating class. While every successful student is a blessing, there is a particular need to honor the accomplishments of Black graduates.
African Americans remain the most underrepresented demographic among those earning degrees – even though they have the greatest need for the single most effective tool by which to enhance quality of life and standard of living. Nothing better breaks the cycle of poverty than education.
Recognition of Black graduates does not come at the expense of neglecting any other group. Affinity groups commonly celebrate their own without disparaging effect on others. Conversely, it is these acknowledgements that affirm the spirit of inclusion at a high and meaningful level of impact. A degree has the potential of being a game changer.
As a result of the pandemic, the 2020 IUPUI Annual Celebration of Black Graduates was cancelled –like every commencement and collegiate tribute to graduating seniors, commonplace in this season. It was a painfully necessity, knowing that each completion of a significant step in the education process is once in a lifetime. Still, it had to be done.
Now what has to be done is a different, effective way of filling the void.
Pondering this quagmire, the last thing we should do is ignore the importance of giving credit where it is due. Formal ceremonies or not, we will not marginalize the tenacity, perseverance, aptitude and discipline of those receiving bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degrees this spring. The fact that we applaud this class without the usual pomp and circumstance does not diminish their great work and even more exciting future.
In truth, it is more critical than ever that we talk to you, of 2020. They arrive at a time unlike any that has preceded them and – in all probability – any that will follow. That reality is grounded in the fact that we are in the midst of a crisis no one has experienced. This is unchartered territory and this class leaves campus with many uncertainties.
Consequently, it would reek of meaningless bombast to praise their journey with the Hallmark card accolades, along with glowing prospects of their future, without weighing the daunting difficulty of the global makeover this class will become the first to confront.
We owe this class of 2020 African American graduates more thoughtful and tempered conversation as they endeavor to either follow career aspirations or continue educational pursuits at a higher level.
That conversation begins with three things. The first is to confess that even our best minds are as unsure and apprehensive as are they. The second is assuring the emerging generations that they have the capacity to deal with whatever comes and the assurance that we won’t abandon that effort. And the third is God is still in control.
Spring graduates preparing to deal with complexities of a world in desperate need of a makeover won’t have to fight their battles alone. The aftermath of the pandemic is likely to forge new, sustainable bonds between the haves and have nots as well as groundbreaking coalitions that defy divisiveness that thwarted past progress.
We honor 2020 Black graduates everywhere with regrets that an ordinate number among their ranks have been directly impacted by this lethal virus. We offer condolences and heartfelt sympathy along with resources for healing to comfort the spirit and encourage progress. We are praying for those whose journey is complicated by having loved ones, or individuals close to them, who are battling the virus.
What we do know is that society is better positioned to overcome challenges, no matter what form they take, because of these graduates armed with knowledge, experiences and skills garnered in completion of their degrees.
Whatever unknown these graduates face, they must never forget that their competence, compassion, leadership, articulation, rich heritage and unswerving integrity will constitute the best hope of revival for a bold, new world.
CONGRATULATIONS 2020 BLACK GRADUATES THROUGHOUT THE NATION! We love you for who you are. We honor you for what you have already done. Thank you in advance for all that you have the capacity to give in our fight to right the wrongs of society. Stay strong, committed, focused and unapologetically Black!
CIRCLE CITY CONNECTION by Vernon A. Williams is a series of essays on myriad topics that include social issues, human interest, entertainment and profiles of difference mak- ers who are forging change in a constantly evolving society. Williams is a 40-year veteran journalist based in Indianapolis, IN – commonly referred to as The Circle City. Send comments or questions to: [email protected].