Pharrell Williams

NORFOLK, VA Norfolk State University is pleased to announce that Virginia native Pharrell Williams will deliver the keynote address at NSU’s 107th Commencement Exercise, which will honor the December graduates in the Class of 2021. The in-person commencement ceremony will be held on campus at 9 a.m., on Saturday, December 11, at Joseph G. Echols Memorial Hall. It will also be live streamed on the University’s website at www.nsu.edu.

A visionary recording artist, producer, songwriter, philanthropist, fashion designer, and entrepreneur, Pharrell Williams has been a creative force in the music industry and beyond for more than two decades.

Over the years, Williams has been honored with 13 Grammy Awards, including Producer of the Year in the 2004, 2014 and 2019; and ASCAP’s prestigious Golden Note Award in 2012. In 2014, his original song “Happy,” featured in Despicable Me 2, also received an Academy Award nomination. In 2017, he received an Academy Award nomination for co-producing Best Picture-nominated Hidden Figures (2016), as well as a Golden Globe nomination for co-scoring the film. In the summer of 2020, Williams was inducted into the Songwriters Hall of Fame along with Chad Hugo for their work as The Neptunes.

In April 2019, Williams launched Something in the Water, the first-ever multi-day music festival and cultural experience on the beach in his hometown of Virginia Beach. The festival’s mission was to unite the community and celebrate the diversity and magic of Virginia Beach. It also was an opportunity to bring the best of what Williams has encountered around the world back to his hometown.

A longtime advocate again racial injustice, Williams was an integral part in the talks with Virginia Governor Ralph Northam about Juneteenth being a permanent paid state holiday. Virginia has long marked Juneteenth by issuing a proclamation, but the date has not previously been considered a state holiday. In June 2021, Williams joined Governor Northam at a press conference at which he announced his plans to do just that. Since the press conference, he continues to push other states and companies to do the same and remains at the forefont of the fight for racial equality across the country.

At the ceremony, Norfolk State will award Williams a Doctor of Humane Letters honorary degree. Additionally, NSU will confer degrees for nearly 400 candidates, who have completed the requirements for associate, baccalaureate, master’s and doctoral degrees.

To attend the ceremony, all invited guests must have a ticket, which is provided by their prospective graduate. Norfolk State University also requires proof of vaccination, or a negative COVID-19 test result within 72 hours of the commencement ceremony. Attendees should plan to bring their government ID, vaccination card, proof or COVID-19 test result.

For more information or to ask questions, visit www.nsu.edu/commencement or email commencement@nsu.edu.

About Norfolk State University
Norfolk State University, a comprehensive urban public institution, is committed to transforming students’ lives through exemplary teaching, research and service. Offering a supportive academic and culturally diverse environment for all, the University empowers its students to turn their aspirations into reality and achieve their full potential as well rounded, resourceful citizens and leaders for the 21st century. For more information, visit www.nsu.edu.

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Dr. Dennis E. Thomas, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Commissioner.

LORMAN, MS – Dr. Dennis E. Thomas, Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Commissioner and Alcorn State University alumnus, will give the speech during Alcorn’s Fall 2021 Commencement Saturday, Dec. 11, at 9 a.m., at the Jack Spinks-Marino Casem Stadium.

A native of Heidelberg, Miss., Thomas earned his 20th year as MEAC Commissioner back in September. During his two decades of service, the conference has remained financially stable, strengthened institutional compliance, and improved student-athlete graduation rates. He’s gained distinction as one of the leasing collegiate administrators in America.

In a progressive move, Thomas inked a deal with GYO Score to create the conference’s esports community. He also executed his goal of purchasing the conference’s first office complex, which is headquartered in Norfolk, Virginia. The accomplishment marked the first time a Football Championship Subdivision (FCS) conference owned its headquartered property without assessing MEAC institutions. Thomas also accomplished another first when led the MEAC to become the first NCAA Division I FCS conference to institute instant replay during its televised regular-season football games.

Thomas’ mission to increase the conference’s corporate resources led to multi-year partnerships with Cricket Wireless, Russell Athletic Corporation, Coca-Cola, State Farm Insurance, Nike, Wells Fargo, ESPN, Jostens, United States Marines, Home Depot, Geico, Colgate Palmolive, Delta Airlines and the National Football League (NFL). Commissioner Thomas was instrumental in forging a partnership with the NFL to improve officiating and provide access to MEAC officials to advance to the next level. In May 2016, Commissioner Thomas also helped broker an off-the-field partnership between the NFL and the MEAC to boost opportunities for non-playing careers in professional football.

In 2017, the MEAC partnered with Collegiate Sports Management Group (CSMG), entering into a multi-year agreement in an effort to increase the conference’s corporate partnerships and branding. The relationship focuses on marketing and sponsorship rights, as well as helping to develop more national strategies across all avenues to assist with generating revenue for the conference and MEAC institutions.

Thomas was a four-year letterman in football and track and field in high school, and at the age of 16, he embarked upon a collegiate career that is still in the SWAC’s record books. In 1973, he made history as the first and only offensive lineman to be named the conference’s Offensive Player of the Year, beating out JSU’s Walter Payton for the honor. He finished his collegiate career as a three-year letterman at Alcorn State, a two-tome Pittsburgh Courier First Team All-American (1972-73), First Team Black Mutual Sports Network All-American (1973), and the Outstanding College Athlete of American (1974).

Thomas coached and played under the legendary coach Marino “The Godfather” Casem. During his playing and coaching tenure at Alcorn State, the Braves won SWAC football championships in 1970 as a player and 1976, 1979, and 1984 as an assistant coach.

Thomas was inducted into Hampton University’s inaugural Athletics Hall of Fame Class in 2009. He has also been enshrined into the Alcorn State University (Miss.) Hall of Fame (2010), the Southwestern Athletic Conference Hall of Fame (2003), and the Black College Football Hall of Fame (2020).

Thomas earned his bachelor’s degree from Alcorn State University. He later earned his master’s degree from the University of Louisiana at Monroe and his doctorate from the State University of New York at Buffalo.

An alumna of CSU, National Leader in the Education Community and, Passion for Equity in Education, Makes Jackson a Natural to Address the Fall 2021 Graduates

Dr. Janice K. Jackson, CEO of HOPE Chicago.

CHICAGO, ILDr. Janice K. Jackson will deliver Chicago State University‘s (CSU) 386th Commencement address on Dec. 16, 2021. The ceremony at the Emil & Patricia A. Jones Convocation Center is the university’s first in-person ceremony since 2019 and its return to in-person classes.

Jackson, a CSU alumna and the former CEO of Chicago Public Schools, was recently tapped as CEO of a newly formed nonprofit named HOPE Chicago. Launched in September 2021, HOPE Chicago, designed as a two-generation scholarship organization, will focus on the elimination of educational and economic equity barriers by guaranteeing debt-free college and wraparound support services to HOPE Scholars and their parents. The organization will pay the full cost of college for Scholars who are Chicago Public School graduates in need and offer the same support to a parent or guardian who desires to commence post-secondary programming. Seven CSU students were selected to participate in the inaugural cohort of the program. HOPE Chicago will also provide counseling mentoring, and career guidance to high school students.

“As an alumna of Chicago State University, we are thrilled to have Dr. Jackson address this year’s graduates,” said President Zaldwaynaka (“Z”) Scott, Esq. “She is a renowned education leader and visionary with a personal passion for transforming lives through education.”

Dr. Jackson, holds a B.A. in secondary education and an M.A. in history from CSU. Jackson also holds an M.A. in leadership and administration and a Ph.D. in education policy studies and urban school leadership. She began her 22-year career with CPS as a social studies teacher and debate team coach at South Shore High School. She served as a high school principal, District Network Chief, and Chief Education Officer in 2017, she was appointed CEO of CPS. She was the first CSU alumna to serve in the position.

About Chicago State University
Chicago State University (CSU), founded in 1867, is the oldest public university in the Chicago Metropolitan area. The University’s five colleges offer over 70 undergraduate and graduate degree-granting and non-degree programs. CSU is committed to equity in education, serving as the only U.S. Department of Education-designated four-year Predominantly Black Institution in Illinois and ranked by a Harvard economist in the top 4% of public and private universities nationwide in supporting our graduates’ economic mobility. The University serves as a prominent civic space on the greater South Side of Chicago by hosting a multitude of athletic, educational, cultural, and recreational activities. The University is located near public transit that provides convenient access to the campus.

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BOWIE, MD – Voting rights champion, political leader and bestselling author Stacey Abrams will deliver the commencement address to the Spring 2021 graduating class at Bowie State University during a virtual commencement to be held on May 21, 2021 at 10 a.m. EDT.

Stacey Abrams

Stacey Abrams is an outspoken advocate in the fight to expand voting access and is the New York Times-bestselling author of “Our Time Is Now” and “Lead from the Outside.” She is widely credited with increasing voter turnout in Georgia in the 2020 presidential election, as well as in the state’s 2020-21 U.S. Senate election and special election. She was nominated for a 2021 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts. She made history in 2019 as the first African-American woman to deliver a response to the State of the Union address.

She was the nation’s first African-American female major-party gubernatorial nominee when she ran as the Democratic candidate in the 2018 Georgia governor’s race, winning more votes, at the time, than any Democrat in state history. Before her gubernatorial run, she served as Democratic Leader of the Georgia House of Representatives for seven years.

Abrams has launched several organizations to address inequities in government. She started Fair Fight Action to ensure every American has a voice in our election system, Fair Count to ensure accuracy in the 2020 census and the Southern Economic Advancement Project, a public policy initiative to broaden economic power and build equity in the South.

Abrams hold a Juris Doctor degree from Yale Law School, a Master of Public Affairs degree from University of Texas at Austin and a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College.

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About Bowie State University
Bowie State University (BSU) is an important higher education access portal for qualified persons from diverse academic and socioeconomic backgrounds, seeking a high-quality and affordable public comprehensive university. The university places special emphasis on the science, technology, cybersecurity, teacher education, business, and nursing disciplines within the context of a liberal arts education. For more information about BSU, visit www.bowiestate.edu.

Smokie Norful

(PINE BLUFF, AR) – GRAMMY-award winning singer and pastor, Class of 1995 graduate Smokie Norful will deliver the commencement address to the fall 2020 graduating class at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff during a virtual commencement to be held on Friday, December 18, 2020, at 6 p.m. CST via YouTube.

Norful is best known for his 2002 album I Need You Now and his 2004 release, Nothing Without You, which won a GRAMMY for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album in 2005.

Norful, a minister who is also the son of an African Methodist Episcopal Church minister, was born in Pine Bluff, Arkansas but grew up in Muskogee, Oklahoma, deeply involved in his father’s church. He graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff as a history major and spent four years teaching high school. In 1998 he felt “called” to the ministry, and pursued a Masters of Divinity degree at Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in Evanston, Illinois. Upon graduation and ordination, he took a position as assistant pastor at a church in Chicago. He participated in an album release by the Thompson Community Choir, a well-known gospel group, and contributed a song as well as solo vocals. He was then offered the opportunity to make a solo album for EMI Gospel, I Need You Now. The album was a slow starter but eventually went gold, spending two years in the upper reaches of the Billboard Gospel Charts.

He was nominated for and won a GRAMMY in 2005 for Best Contemporary Soul Gospel Album. He is also signed to EMI-CMG Publishing and his own Norful Music Publishing as a songwriter. He performed on June 6, 2005, for President George W. Bush in a concert honoring Black Music Month. Norful is a member of Kappa Alpha Psi Fraternity, Inc., and pastors the Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Chicago and Bolingbrook, IL.

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About the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
The University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff is a public comprehensive HBCU 1890 Land-Grant Institution. The University embraces its land-grant mission of providing cutting edge research, teaching, outreach, and service programs that respond to the social and economic needs of the state and region. Its mission is to promote and sustain excellent academic programs that integrate quality instruction, research, and student learning experiences responsive to the needs of a racially, culturally, and economically diverse student population. Ultimately, the University is dedicated to providing access and opportunity to academically deserving students and producing graduates who are equipped to excel through their contributions and leadership in a 21st century national and global community. For more information, visit www.uapb.edu.

(CHICAGO, IL – 11/19/20) As Chicago State University students nearing graduation prepare to lead in their professions and communities, the institution announces that Chicago’s Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot will serve as the Fall 2020 Commencement speaker. Mayor Lightfoot will address the graduating class on December 17 at 11 a.m. for the university’s first virtual commencement ceremony.

“We are honored to have Mayor Lightfoot speak at this year’s commencement ceremony,” said President Zaldwaynaka Scott, Esq. “As the city’s first African American female mayor who has focused her administration work on bringing resources to all of Chicago’s neighborhood’s while also governing during a challenging period, our graduates will benefit tremendously from her insights as a civic leader and a trailblazer.”

About Mayor Lori E. Lightfoot

Mayor Lightfoot has undertaken an ambitious agenda of expanding opportunity and inclusive economic growth across Chicago’s neighborhoods and communities, with early accomplishments including landmark ethics and good governance reforms, worker protection legislation, and closing a then-record $838 million budget gap, as well as key investments in education, public safety and financial stability. Mayor Lightfoot also placed Chicago on the path to a $15 minimum wage by 2021.

In response to the unprecedented COVID-19 crisis, Mayor Lightfoot has led a coordinated, citywide response across government, business, and community organizations to effectively address its spread and broader public impact, including the creation of the Racial Equity Rapid Response Team, the COVID-19 Recovery Task Force, among other actions. 

Prior to her election, Mayor Lightfoot most recently served as a senior equity partner in the Litigation and Conflict Resolution Group at Mayer Brown. Previously, she also served as a civic leader in roles that include President of the Chicago Police Board, as well as the Chair of the Police Accountability Task Force.

A native of Massillon, Ohio, Mayor Lightfoot has been a resident of Chicago since 1986 and lives on the Near Northwest Side with her wife Amy Eshleman and their daughter.

The fall commencement ceremony is not Mayor Lightfoot’s first visit to CSU, having addressed the campus and community members during a forum with Cook County Board President Toni Preckwinkle in March 2019, weeks before her election in April 2019.

“Having Mayor Lightfoot as our commencement speaker is an honor,” said Jasmine Moss, CSU Communications major and Fall 2020 graduating senior. “She has had a tremendous impact on the city of Chicago, in particular the Southside where Chicago State is located. As I prepare to graduate during an uncertain time, I look forward to learning from the insight of a leader mapping the city’s path forward.”

About Commencement

Commencement will be held on Thursday, December 17, 2020 at 11 a.m. The public is invited to watch the ceremony streamed online at www.csu.edu. Learn more.

About Chicago State University

Chicago State University (CSU), founded in 1867, is the oldest public university in the Chicago Metropolitan area. The University’s five colleges offer over 70 undergraduate and graduate degree-granting and non-degree programs. CSU is committed to equity in education, serving as the only U.S. Department of Education-designated four-year Predominantly Black Institution in Illinois and ranked by a Harvard economist in the top 4% of public and private universities nationwide in supporting graduates’ economic mobility. The University serves as a prominent civic space on the greater South Side of Chicago by hosting a multitude of athletic, educational, cultural, and recreational activities. The University is located near public transit that provides convenient access to the campus. For more information, visit www.csu.edu.

Ms. Essye B. Miller, ’85.

TALLADEGA, AL – Senior Executive Service Member/Cybersecurity Expert Ms. Essye B. Miller will deliver the address at Talladega College’s 144th commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 5, 2019, at 9 a.m.

According to a press release from the University, Ms. Miller is a career member of the Senior Executive Service, and currently serves as the Principal Deputy, Department of Defense Chief Information Officer ( DoD CIO). In this capacity, she assists the DoD CIO as the primary advisor to the Secretary of Deference for Information Management / Information Technology (IT) and Information Assurance, as well as non-intelligence space systems; critical satellite communications, navigation, and timing programs; spectrum; and telecommunications.

While serving as the Deputy Chief Information Officer (DCIO) for Cybersecurity and the Department’s Senior Information Security Officer (SISO), Ms. Miller was appointed by the Deputy Secretary of Defense as the Acting Defense Chief Information Officer (December 8, 2017 – May 6, 2018). As the DCIO for Cybersecurity, Ms. Miller was responsible for ensuring that the DoD CIO has a well-defined and executed cybersecurity program, and coordinating cybersecurity standards, policies, and procedures with other federal agencies, coalition partners, and industry.

Ms. Miller began her career as an Information Technology Specialist at Gunter Air Force Base after graduating from Talladega College in 1985. She went on to serve in various leadership positions throughout the Air Force, including with the following units or offices: Air Force Communication and Information Center; Air Force Office of Warfighting Integration and Chief Information Office at the Pentagon; Air Combat Command at Langley Air Force Base; the 75th Communications and Information Directorate; and Deputy CIO at Hill Air Force Base in Ogden, UT.

Ms. Miller earned her Bachelor of Arts degree from Talladega College, a Master of Business Administration Degree from Troy State University and a Master of Strategic Studies from Air University in Montgomery, Alabama. She is a 2016 graduate of the Harvard Kennedy School of Government in National and International Security Studies. Additionally, Ms. Miller is Acquisition Level III certified in Information Technology.

Ms. Miller was awarded the Presidential Rank Award as a meritorious recipient in 2018. This award is given to members of the Senior Executive Service for exceptional service over an extended period of time.

Ms. Miller was initiated into the Alpha Zeta Chapter of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Incorporated in 1982. She is a Diamond Life member, active with the Fairfax County Alumnae Chapter in Northern Virginia.

About Talladega College

The oldest private Historically Black College in Alabama, Talladega College was founded in 1867 by two former slaves, Williams Savery and Thomas Tarrant. Talladege College is the home of the renowned Hale Woodruff Amistad Murals, which received rave reviews from the New York Times during the three-year, eight-city tour. Visit www.talladega.edu, for more information.

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Bakari Sellers

Bakari Sellers, CNN Political Commentator, and the youngest African American elected official in the country, will deliver the Commencement Address at Paine College on May 5th, and Lincoln University on May 11th. The event will begin for Paine College at 9:00 a.m. on Sunday Morning in the HEAL Complex located at 1255 Druid Park Avenue, Augusta, Georgia. The event will begin for Lincoln University at 10 a.m. at Dwight T. Reed Stadium. Paine College and Lincoln University commencement ceremonies are both open to the public.

Elected to the South Carolina House of Representatives at the age of 22, Sellers defeated a 26-year-incumbent and was the youngest member of the state legislature. In 2014, he won the Democratic nomination for Lt. Governor of South Carolina, and is considered a rising star and a voice for a generation within the party. Sellers earned his undergraduate degree from Morehouse College and earned a law degree from the University of South Carolina. A practicing attorney, Sellers has been a contributor to CNN, was listed in TIME magazine’s “40 under 40” in 2010, and was on “The Root 100” list of 2014 recognizing the most influential African Americans in the nation.

“We are pleased that Bakari Sellers will address the 2019 graduating class,” said Jerry L. Hardee, President of Paine College. “Bakari Sellers has emerged as the ‘voice’ for his generation. We are certain that his message will inspire our graduating seniors as they embark upon their career paths and lives.”

During Paine’s Commencement weekend of activities, Alumni will celebrate classes ending in 4s and 9s. Of special note, the Golden Class of 1969 will celebrate its 50th anniversary. This year, the College will dedicate the Commencement Convocation to the Paine high School graduates. The Class of 1944 is the last class to have graduate under the Paine High School.

In case of inclement weather, the ceremony will be moved to Robert and Charlene Mitchell Auditorium in Richardson Fine Arts Center at Lincoln University. Livestreaming will be available from anywhere at www.lincolnu.edu/live-stream.