Civil rights icon Al Sharpton stresses unity, higher achievement at TSU Graduate Commencement ceremony

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Photo: Lee Johnson / Nashville Voice

Civil rights leader and activist the Rev. Al Sharpton stressed unity and a commitment to higher achievement at Tennessee State University’s spring Graduate Commencement ceremony.

Sharpton, who serves as the host of PoliticsNation on MSNBC, gave the address at the May 3 event. Bestselling author Michael Eric Dyson addressed the undergraduates at their ceremony the next day.

Both Sharpton and Dyson were given Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters in recognition of their body of work and impact on society.

In his speech, Sharpton said everyone has a role to play in providing quality education.

“The commitment to education is something that we all should be united (around), whether we are Republican or Democrat, or Independent,” he said.  “We should all be united around giving young people the best quality education they can get.”

Sharpton also bemoaned the hatred and intolerance sweeping the nation. He told the graduates they can help change that mindset.

“Tonight, you stand together as graduates of TSU,” he said. “This level of intolerance and ignorance … we must stand against together, and make this one nation under God, indivisible, with justice and fairness for everybody.”

Sharpton also urged the graduates to continue to build on their achievement, and “to be the head of your own fan club.”

“Tonight, you have shown you can achieve something,” he said. “Only you know … what you went through to get here. But through it all, you got here tonight, which proves that you can achieve something, and it proves that you can keep achieving if you use the same discipline and determination you did to graduate here tonight. You can keep going higher and higher if you push yourself to do that.”

Georgetta Harris-Wyatt received a doctorate in psychology. She said Sharpton’s speech was motivational, that it “encouraged all the graduate students to see beyond where they are now.”

She said Sharpton’s words inspired her, even more, to use her degree to help youth.

“Ultimately, I hope to work with children and adolescents in the juvenile justice system, and help them to rewrite their stories,” said Harris-Wyatt.

Sharpton is no stranger to TSU. In 2014, he came to the university to take up the cause to have TSU’s 1957-1959 Men’s Championship Basketball Team, the first-ever to win three national titles back-to-back, inducted into the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame.

He joined university officials and staff, including President Glover, state officials, community leaders and stakeholders, as he presented his cause during a ceremony in Kean Hall.

As a result of Sharpton’s efforts and that of many others, including TSU alumnus Dr. Richard “Dick” Barnett, a member of all three teams, the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame announced last month that the Tennessee State men’s basketball championship teams of 1957-59 will be one of 12 honorees in this year’s Class of 2019.

The class will be celebrated at this year’s enshrinement festivities in Springfield, Massachusetts.

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