PETERSBURG, Va. (WRIC) — For the first time since Dec. 2019, Virginia State University (VSU) held a face-to-face commencement ceremony, honoring not only the class of 2021, but also previous graduating classes that could not celebrate in person because of COVID-19-related restrictions.
According to a release, the university honored 700 graduates, including seven recipients of honorary doctoral degrees.
One such honoree was civil rights attorney Benjamin Crump, who heads the legal team for the family of George Floyd, the Black man who was pinned to the pavement with a knee on his neck by former police officer Derek Chauvin.
The outdoor ceremony was held at Rogers Stadium, with graduates seated six feet apart to allow for social distancing on the football field. Mask wearing was required, and the university limited attendance to two guests per graduate. The ceremony was also live-streamed online.
“Each of you are now VSU’s points of pride,” Virginia State University President Dr. Makola Abdullah said. “It doesn’t matter how long it took you to achieve this goal. What matters is you hung in there, and now you can say, ‘We made it.'”
Senior Class President Jeremiah Brooks spoke before his classmates, expressing his gratitude for his own experience at VSU and encouraging his peers to move forward with the lessons they learned during their time at the university.
“This class is destined for greatness, born in our endurance and survival of the pandemic,” Brooks said. “We had no choice but to rise to the challenge of a pandemic. Since then, there has never been a normal for us.”
Brooks announced that he plans to continue his education by pursuing his master’s degree.
“There are three keys I want to leave with you today,” he said. “The first to value knowledge, the second is to be kings and queens, and the third is to live a legacy.”
Award-winning host, social justice advocate, lawyer and commentator Angela Rye delivered the commencement address before the graduates took the stage to receive their diplomas.
“This country is in desperate need of each of you. We have some problems that we’ve not been able to solve, and we need some new soldiers with some new approaches, new solutions and new energy,” Rye said. “As America sits at the significant crossroads of another opportunity to choose whom she will become. She’s had so many opportunities to make a different and more constructive decision toward a more perfect union, and you all sit in a tremendous seat of power to help her make that decision.”
The ceremony concluded with celebration from the graduates and their supporters in attendance, as Dr. Karen Floyd Savage sang VSU’s alma mater and the colors were retired.