Tom Vilsack encourages students to “Dream without limits” during Alcorn’s Spring 2023 Spring Commencement Ceremony

Today is a new beginning.

While graduation marks the end of one chapter, it also begins a new saga loaded with potential in the lives of Alcorn State University’s newest alumni.

Nearly 500 scholars received degrees during the 2023 Spring Commencement Ceremony Saturday, May 13, at the Davey L. Whitney HPER Complex. Tom Vilsack, the 32nd United States Secretary of Agriculture, delivered the keynote address.

Beginning his speech with a Nelson Mandela quote, “In life and competition, there is no lose. There’s only win and learn,” Vilsack encouraged the graduates to use the philosophy in all aspects of their lives, especially when facing obstacles.

“This is a wonderful philosophy as you deal with the challenges that life presents,” said Vilsack. “You can win, you can learn, but you can never lose.”

Vilsack spoke about some of rural America’s challenges and how this generation of graduates could assist them by lending their knowledge and skill to the cause.

“You could be a change agent. You could ensure that there is no ‘lose’ in the future of this country, rural South, rural Mississippi, and rural America. You could help us change this food system. While doing so, you could dream big dreams without limits.”

After his speech, Interim Provost Dr. Joyce Buckner-Brown presented Vilsack with the Doctor of Humane Letters, the highest academic achievement.

The Alcorn experience is one that the graduates cherish. San Antonio, Texas native McKelvie Maxwell, who was presented with this year’s Student Award of Excellence, appreciates her time studying and making memories during her undergrad years.

“It is a blessing to see all of my hard work pay off,” said Maxwell, a four-year President’s Scholar and three-year Dean’s Scholar who will attend Meherry Medical College later this year. “It feels like time flew by so fast because I had an amazing experience at Alcorn.”

Aizat Zholdakayeva, a Kazakhstan native who earned a bachelor’s degree in general studies, is proud of her Alcorn education.

“I feel grateful for the experience and skill set I gained at Alcorn,” said Zholdakayeva. “I developed lifelong friendships, which is, in my opinion, the most valuable outcome.”

The Golden Class of 1973 had a strong representation, as 78 members received golden diplomas to commemorate their 50th graduation anniversary. The class donated over $150,000 to their class-endowed scholarship.

Golden Class member Jerry Sims was happy to celebrate with old friends.

“This moment is significant to me,” said Sims. “It’s a blessing to participate with my class 50 years after graduating, reconnecting with friends that I began college with. We’re a strong class that supports our university, and we hope our efforts inspire younger people to support Alcorn by giving back.”

Other commencement highlights included Dr. Ping Zhang, department chair and professor for the Department of Math and Computer Science, being presented with the IHL Excellence in Diversity & Inclusion Award.

Marie Moffett-Crosby ’71, a Louin, Mississippi native, was named this year’s Alcornite of the Year. The award is presented to a prominent alum who has achieved distinction through their exceptional contribution to Alcorn’s international, national, and community welfare.

Crosby, president of the Jasper-Smith County Alcorn State University Alumni Chapter, retired from Bellsouth in 2004 after almost 32 years of service. At Bellsouth, she received several recognitions, including Leader of Excellence, Service Leader, Safety Award, Customer Rules Service Leader, Best MMC Performance, and Perfect Attendance.

Interim President Dr. Ontario Wooden, proudly saluted the new alumni for reaching their educational milestone.

“This accomplishment shouldn’t be taken lightly,” said Wooden. “Your grit and dedication will serve you well in your future endeavors. We encourage you to embrace the lessons you’ve learned here at Alcorn State University. You are capable of achieving anything that you put your mind to. With hard work and determination, the possibilities are endless. I am proud of you, and I salute you.”