Alton Jay Harris talks perseverance at Alcorn’s 2017 Spring Commencement Exercise

When ESPN Anchor Alton Jay Harris took the stage at Alcorn State University’s 2017 Spring Commencement Exercise, he did something that no other commencement speaker had ever done before. He picked up his iPad, turned around and took a photograph with the 443 proud members of the Class of 2017.

Harris’s commencement speech was filled with motivating words and valuable advice that the graduates can use as a blueprint for success. He gave the graduates three important rules to live by as they enter the next chapter of their lives.

“If you do not go after what you want, you will never have it,” said Harris. “If you do not ask, the answer will always be no. If you do not step forward, you will always be in the same place. Live by these rules, and everything will go well. Your time is limited; so don’t waste it by living someone else’s life. Don’t let the voice of others’ opinion drown out your inner voice. Most importantly, have the courage to follow your heart and intuition.”

Graduation is exciting, but it can also be frightening because of the fear of the unknown. Harris encouraged the graduates to deal with fear by remembering their goals and allowing those goals to motivate them to stay on course.

“As I look back on my commencement, it scared me because I wondered what was next. A little fear is normal, but balance it by remembering why you came here, what you got done while you were here, and how it will guide you when you leave here.”

Harris later used lyrics from Hip-Hip artist Kendrick Lamar’s hit single “DNA” to inspire the graduates to press forward during tough times.

“You would not be here at Alcorn if you didn’t have loyalty, power, joy, hustle and ambition inside of your DNA. When times get hard, remember the power you possess because it will get you through.”

President Alfred Rankins Jr. congratulated the graduates and expressed his faith in their future success.

“I wish you all great success and remember, you can be whatever you want to be because you have a degree from Alcorn State University,” said Rankins.

Ayobunni Saleem, a Milwaukee, Wisconsin native who followed in her mother’s footsteps in becoming an Alcorn alumna, earned a bachelor’s degree in business administration. When she reflected on the environment she came from, she realized how grateful she is to have successfully completed this milestone.

“I feel proud and accomplished,” said Saleem. “I feel like all of my hard work has paid off. I come from a place where not too many people get the chance to graduate, but I was able to beat the odds. So this is a very achieving moment in my life.”

Christopher Jefferson, a biology/pre-physical therapy major from Horn Lake, Mississippi, credits Alcorn for shaping him into the man he has become. He feels that the skills he’s learned on campus will benefit him in the future.

“I’m excited because Alcorn did a great job at preparing me for handling life outside of college,” said Jefferson. “I believe that the knowledge that I’ve attained here will allow me to be a professional in the workforce as well.”

Spring Commencement was filled with notable highlights. A total of 75 members of the Golden Class of 1967 were celebrated for their 50th anniversary of their college graduation. The members were presented with golden diplomas.

Dr. Anthony Newman, ASU Foundation, Inc. board member presented Detroit, Michigan native Ariel Walker, a biology pre-medicine major, with the Award of Excellence, which includes a $1,000 gift.

Dr. Donzell Lee, provost and executive vice president for Academic Affairs, and Rankins presented Harris with an honorary doctorate degree at the ceremony. The Rev. Neddie Winters, president of the Alcorn State University National Alumni Association, presented James McDonald ‘91, a Mendenhall, Mississippi native, with the Alcornite of the Year award. McDonald serves as assistant regional administrator for the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, Region 6 in Dallas, Texas.

Click here, for memorable 2017 Commencement highlights.

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