Dr. Gloria McEwen Burgess encourages students to “Make their life count” during Alcorn’s 2022 Spring Commencement

Graduation. This goal is what Alcornites have worked tirelessly to achieve since enrolling four years ago. Today is the day that they relish in the fruits of their labor.

The newest Alcorn State University alumni celebrated earning college degrees during the University's 2022 Spring Commencement Saturday, May 14, at the Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex.

Over 500 graduates crossed the stage in honor of their milestones.

“Graduating college has to be the best feeling in the world,” said Vicksburg, Mississippi native Alec Bailey, who earned a bachelor's degree in business administration. “I remember being a freshman and not knowing what to expect. I grew from a kid to a young adult and met life-long friends. These relationships are ones I will cherish forever. I wouldn’t trade this experience for anything in the world. I have great stories to tell my children in the future. This journey has prepared me for the real world.”

Dr. Gloria McEwen Burgess gave the ceremony's address. Burgess, an internationally recognized expert in transformational leadership, encouraged the graduates to make their lives count.

“We make our life count when we express gratitude, acknowledge, and appreciate the tens of thousands of women and men on whose shoulders we stand,” said Burgess. “The women and men came before us and built the roads and bridges and laid a foundation for us to stand. I’m here because somebody made their life count so that I could make my life count.”

Faith and seeing beyond the surface were things Burgess’ father, Mr. Ernest McEwen, taught her. Her message to the graduates was to take those leaps of faith to achieve success.

“We make our life count when we exercise our faith and embrace our unshakable devotion to make a better way. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. reminded us that faith is taking that first step, even when you can’t see the whole staircase. We make our lives count when we fall in love with the future. Scripture tells us that love is the most powerful force on the planet. We make our life count when we elevate our vision and see a distant horizon that other folks can’t or won’t see.”

Before concluding her speech, Burgess motivated the graduates to think about their legacy and what imprint they want to make on this world.

“When we live a life of integrity; when we remember who and whose we are and refuse to accept the status quo. We make it count when we are intentional about our legacy and being a steward for others. Legacy isn’t something in the distant future. We manifest our legacy every day. My prayer for you is that you lift your eyes and elevate your vision beyond making a living. My prayer is that you make your life count.”

After her speech, Dr. Ontario Wooden, provost and senior vice president for Academic Affairs, presented Burgess with a posthumous honorary doctorate in honor of her father. Mr. McEwen, who served as president of the Student Council 60 years ago, led the student body’s effort to uphold student civil rights and Alcorn’s integrity.

An emotional Burgess accepted the honor with pride and gratefulness.

“I cannot tell you what this honor means for my family. My heart is full. I accept this wonderful recognition for my father. This is an honor and blessing.”

Each spring commencement, a standout member of the graduating class is awarded for their excellence. This year, Marcus Ward, vice president for Institutional Advancement, presented the annual Student Award of Excellence to Adeola Olowokudejo, a Lagos, Nigeria native who earned a bachelor’s degree in phycology.

The award represents growth, accomplishment, and success for Olowokudejo. She’s proud of her effort.

“It is fulfilling to look back on the past four years and see how much I’ve grown and accomplished,” said Olowokudejo. “It feels excellent to know that I’ve made my parents and family proud. I’m grateful to my instructors, friends, and God for bringing me this far.”

The 2022 IHL Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award was presented to Dr. Marta Piva, interim chairperson, and professor of biology for the Department of Biological Sciences. Piva began her Alcorn tenure in 2001 as a research assistant professor in the Department. During her time at Alcorn, Piva has excelled in securing over $2 million in external research funding from agencies such as the Department of Defense and the National Institute of Health. She has also advised students on several research projects. Several of those students have gone on to earn doctorate degrees from institutions such as Cornell University and Penn State University and are well established in their fields.

Sixty-six Golden Class of 1972 members received their golden diplomas to commemorate their 50th graduation anniversary. In addition, the class donated the largest class endowment of $162,153 in honor of their golden jubilee.

Two of those members, Mr. Bobby Wilson, and Dr. Margarett Wilson, who met and fell in love here, were ecstatic to celebrate their milestone and share it with their grandson Ernest Dixon III. The latter earned a bachelor’s degree in agriculture.

“I’m excited because we get to march with our grandson,” said Bobby. “I didn't get to march during the ceremony 50 years ago, so coming back and walking across the stage makes me happy. My Alcorn days were some of the best days of my life. Coming back to see friends I went to games with and spent time with at the union was great.”

“It’s a wonderful feeling and great honor to share this day with our grandson,” said Margarett. “Bobby and I met here, so this celebration is a special occasion. We are also celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary, so this is one of our most memorable days.

President Felecia M. Nave gave the graduates a sendoff filled with encouragement and motivation.

“This day has been years in the making, and you deserve all of the praise,” said Nave. “We are so proud of what you have accomplished, and we can’t wait to see what you will trailblaze in the future. I wish you great success and God’s speed.”