On this date fifteen years ago I presided over my first commencement as a college president. It was an exciting day for me — 38 years old leading the historic Philander Smith College and presiding over commencement. Back then we did baccalaureate in the morning and then commencement in the afternoon.
At the convention center we also did a class picture which was a cool tradition.
The toughest part as a new president, starting that December so I only had 5 months with the students, is that I don’t have a real relationship with most of them. My stories about them were second hand. There probably were four or five I got to know well.
But I started my tradition of sharing stories about the graduates. It was something I carried on from Dr. Portia Holmes Shields who was the president of Albany State University in Georgia where I was VP for student affairs. I know that was a surprise for everyone, but people soon got the hang of it and looked forward to that part of the program (people do here too- I am still getting notes even for the virtual event we are doing).
Fortunately, I am able to keep up with a few of them throughout the years. I saw Natara a few years ago at the Fisk inauguration. That is probably one of the greatest gifts I get as a president.