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Published: Saturday, 5/9/2009

At Wilberforce, it s suo Marte

IF YOUR view of young adult African-Americans is limited to what much of the media present, you probably wag your head.

I didn t need to make a trip to attend commencement at the nation s oldest historically black university to be convinced that the future of black America is full of excitement.

In fact, my experience a week ago today at Wilberforce University reinforced what I already knew: that there are hundreds and thousands of wonderful young black men and women who aspire to greatness, and who do not fit the stereotypes commonly applied to them.

Wilberforce, like many universities public and private, small and large, is struggling. Though it is, its history demands that it not only survive but thrive, and given the 2009 baccalaureate and commencement exercises at the 153-year-old school, Wilberforce must be up to the challenge.

Frankly, the WU, as students call it, has no choice. Its list of notable graduates includes leaders in the African Methodist Episcopal Church WU is an AME school politicians, business and corporate executives, musicians, educators including WU President Patricia Lofton Hardaway and communicators, such as my predecessor, the late William Brower.

Nearly 200 young men and women, some who came from New York, California, Nevada, the state of Washington, and Jamaica plus adults in a continuing education program will carry on the legacy.

Cyrus Jones, a Scott High School grad who now qualifies as 2009 WU alumnus, was particularly memorable with his commencement remarks as senior class president. He said he and his peers are ready for the future because WU professors prepared them for the struggles of the professional and corporate world.

When Mr. Jones stepped onto the WU campus in rural, southwestern Ohio four years ago, he quickly distinguished himself and rose to become student government association president.

Now, he said, the graduates have a foundation that will allow us to continue our development and growth. A foundation built on suo Marte: one s own power, one s own will, one s own effort. A motto that we will take with us into the workplace as we reflect what Wilberforce has taught.

Mr. Jones who expects to substitute teach before going to law school was in the company of other notables at commencement. WU awarded honorary doctorates to Ohio state Treasurer Kevin Boyce and Leonard Haynes III, executive director of the White House Initiative on Historically Black Colleges and Universities.

Interestingly, Mr. Haynes was named to that post during the Bush administration. In his keynote address, he said that after President Obama was elected, media called to ask whether black colleges are finished now that there is a black president.

No, he told them. And let me add: Not now, not ever. Black colleges and universities have a vital role, as much as predominantly white institutions do, including the one that also graduated one of my nephews on Sunday.

And I can t help but add that among black colleges most important job is to keep producing such distinguished alumni as Cyrus Jones.



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