Commencement Speaker Dr. Dennis Thomas makes largest gift by an alumnus in Alcorn history

A new chapter awaits Alcorn State University's newest alumni.

Over 200 graduates reached the culmination of their undergraduate years at the University when they received bachelor’s degrees during Alcorn’s 2021 Fall Commencement Exercise Saturday, Dec. 11, at the Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex.

Graduates were addressed by Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference (MEAC) Commissioner Dr. Dennis Thomas, who was also a star student-athlete for the Alcorn football team in the 1970s.

Thomas began his message to the graduates by giving them the keys to overcoming challenges during the tougher moments along their journey.

“The world is not going to be fair to you,” said Thomas. “You’re going to experience frustration, disappointment, tragedy, and adversity, but there’s a flip side to this. On the other side of the coin, you’re going to experience opportunities, success, happiness, and achievement. How you handle the first part of what I articulated will determine how much you’ll experience the second part. The way you handle frustrations, adversity, being wronged, and tragedies will have a direct impact on your opportunities, happiness, success, and achievements.”

Alcorn is responsible for providing Thomas with a foundation that has powered him on his road to achievement. He turned his alma mater’s name into an acronym to describe what the University means to him. He gave the graduates lessons on being committed to excellence, remembering their Alcorn foundation, and persevering.

“The A, for me, stands for accountability, achievement, and attitude. The L stands for legacy, loyalty, and love for our alma mater. The C stands for commitment, character, and courage. All of you can be committed, but unless you have the courage to activate your commitment, it won’t happen. The O is for the observance of our ode. ‘Beneath the shades of giant trees, fanned by a balmy southern breeze.’ Don’t forget that. The R stands for resiliency. When you get knocked down, come back, stand up, and fight some more. The N stands for necessary.”

The meaning of the last letter in Alcorn’s name inspired Thomas to encourage the lawmakers and influencers in Mississippi to properly aid the University for being a premier institution of higher learning and elevating the state.

“My message to the great state of Mississippi is that Alcorn is not only necessary today as it was in 1871, but also it is necessary for this state to support this University. It’s necessary for the state of Mississippi to recognize the impact and what a crowned jewel and asset that Alcorn has been for this great state. Alcorn needs to be funded appropriately. We have been an asset to the state, country, and world for 150 years, and we need to be compensated for making the great state of Mississippi a better state.”

Many attributes could lead to success, and Thomas advised the graduates on those attributes that they will need to have to achieve excellence.

“Show me your friends, and I’ll show you your future. Show me your habits, and I’ll show you your achievements. Show me your integrity and character, and I’ll show you your life. Show me your attitude, and I’ll show you your destination. Be careful who you surround yourself with. Don’t excuse yourself out of your success. If you make excuses, you will accept excuses. Don’t be complacent because complacency is the enemy of performance. Always strive to be the best. You’ve been prepared by tremendous faculty and staff here. You’ve been equipped with the Alcorn armor that protects you and allows you to withstand adversity. Some of you went against the odds because nobody expected you to go to college and graduate. To those people, I say, “To hell with them.’ That’s the attitude that you should take with you every day.”

Thomas’s closing remark encouraged the students to go above the standard to become exceptional.

“Some say that the sky is the limit, but I don’t agree with that. The sky is not the limit; the sky is your first stop on your journey to the universe.”

To show his appreciation to his alma mater, Thomas donated a $350,000 gift, the largest gift from an alumnus in the University’s history. The gift is in honor of Thomas’s parents, Mr. Russell and Mrs. Marjorie Thomas, and is an endowed scholarship fund that will support students from his hometown, Heidelberg, Mississippi.

“We appreciate Dr. Thomas for his many years of support to Alcorn State University, “ said Dr. Felecia M. Nave, president of Alcorn. “He continues to show his love for our university through his time, talent, and treasure. Dr. Thomas’ notable achievements throughout his career are the epitome of an Alcornite.”

Also, during the ceremony, Thomas received the highest honor that the university can bestow on an individual — the doctorate of humane letters. 

Reaching this educational milestone was a special moment for the new alumni. Brenna McCann, a first-generation college graduate who earned a bachelor’s degree in biology, expressed how significant her Alcorn education is.

“I am a first-generation college student, so graduating from Alcorn means a lot to me,” said McCann. “It means being a role model for the youth in my hometown. In addition, Alcorn prepared me to pursue a professional career in optometry successfully. I am proud to graduate in the top three of the Department of Biology. I’ll forever be grateful for my time at Alcorn.”

Kalon Johnson, who earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture, feels that his Alcorn degree will open countless doors to thrive and take care of his loved ones and future Alcornites.

“It feels great to get my degree from my HBCU, Alcorn State University,” said Johnson. “By earning my degree, I will be able to support myself with a sustainable career and help find the next generation of Alcornites. It will help me to continue my race to help other future Alcornites along the way.

President Nave applauded the graduates for their dedication to their studies and completing their goals.

“You have been resilient throughout these unprecedented times, and you’ve been tested in ways that others before you were not, yet, you made it,” said Nave. “Your determination and accomplishments are to be applauded. Today, you will join more than 25,000 proud alumni of Alcorn State University who treasure this institution for what it has been and what it could be. You are part of an exceptional class, the fall cohort of our 150th year. You represent the richness of our history and our hope for the future.”