Clayton State University has been holding fall commencement ceremonies since December 2000. All have been memorable occasions for the graduates, their families and the Clayton State faculty and administration. However, the Saturday, Dec. 7, 2013 Commencement will long be remembered as a special occasion.
Following the 9 a.m. ceremony highlighted by the keynote speech of State Senator Jack Hill, chair of the Senate Appropriations Committee, the University honored former Atlanta mayor Shirley C. Franklin at the noon ceremony with the eighth honorary degree granted by the University in its 45-year history.
Now as the holder of an honorary Clayton State Doctorate of Public Service, Dr. Franklin (as so-introduced by Clayton State President Dr. Thomas Hynes) proceeded to give a most memorable commencement address, basing her remarks to the graduates on the example set by a man she referred to as, “one of the great heroes of the 20th
Century,” former South African President Nelson Mandela, who passed away on Dec. 5, 2013, at the age of 95. Indeed, the spirit of a great man imbued the entire Commencement, as Hynes asked the two full-house audiences to reflect on the memory on Mandela in his introductory remarks before both ceremonies.
Franklin, who mentioned that she had met Mandela once during an official visit to Cape Town (“The only time I’ve ever been speechless,” she commented.), stated that he would be remembered for centuries to come, because of his perseverance, intellect and vision. She urged some 240 graduates of the colleges of Arts & Sciences and Information and Mathematical Sciences at Clayton State to recall and follow the example and qualities Mandela exhibited throughout his long life.
“He devoted his life to public service… He did not give up… He fought for freedom and preached peace and reconciliation,” she noted. “He was not just courageous, smart and visionary, he had the equanimity to believe that everyone had the right to be respected, whether they agreed with him or not.”
Franklin especially emphasized Mandela’s compassion, humanity and humility, noting that he had the compassion to understand the Afrikaners even though he fought them for years.
Franklin urged the graduates to keep those qualities in their toolboxes, saying, “it is humanity and humility that is required in 21st
Concluding her address to a standing ovation, Franklin segued from the transformation that Mandela had effected in South Africa to the transformation that has taken place in America since she graduated from high school and college in the 1960s, prior to Clayton State’s founding in 1969… a point that fit perfectly with a University renown for its diversity.
“You can be here today because someone had taken a chance, taken a chance that Clayton State can be integrated… black, white, Hispanic, Asian, international,” she said. “In that time America has transformed itself, now you have to be the transformation.”
The 9 a.m. ceremony for the colleges of Health and Business, featured Hill presenting the approximately 250 graduates with three points that would contribute to their futures. The first noted that they were graduating in a state with boundless opportunities for a career. Hill’s second point was about change, a concept that would end up fitting well with Franklin’s later message.
“The one constant about life and business in change,” he said. “Keeping up with change is a challenge you will face throughout your life. As you continue, the pace of change will be constant and unrelenting.”
Finally, Hill noted that, in addition to their academic training, the life skills the graduates learned at Clayton State would serve them well in their jobs and throughout their lives.