African American Alumni Chapter celebrates and welcomes new grads
Last Friday proved an especially happy one at the University of Missouri–St. Louis as a crowd of graduating students of color gathered with well-wishers to celebrate the past and look to the future.
It was also emotional. One by one, the students stepped up to the microphone to share a little bit about their academic journeys, at times bringing audience members to tears.
A music major recalled how she’d always loved to sing but until recent years couldn’t read music – and now she is an accomplished vocalist and teacher.
Another graduate named specific UMSL people who made a difference during her time on campus. Still others, some of them first-generation or nontraditional college students, credited family members with helping to make pursuit of their degrees possible in the first place.
Business major Kourtney Burks, who transferred to the university in 2013, remembered overcoming a number of hurdles to get to where she’ll be this weekend.
“I absolutely had no idea where I was going and who I would meet,” Burks said. “My mom passed away the week of finals in December 2015, and I thought about taking a break. But I remained consistent, and here I am today, graduating May 14.”
The stories of such persistence stood out to UMSL alumna Doris Coleman, BSBA 1989, who helped organize the event. It’s become an annual effort sponsored by the university’s highly active African American Alumni Chapter in partnership with the Black Faculty and Staff Association and the Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
“I was in their shoes some years ago and made a success of my life,” said Coleman, who currently serves as treasurer for the chapter. “But there was no celebration upon succeeding – except among my immediate family. We now have the event to give our new graduates that pat on the back for continuing through the challenges they’ve faced, and we love celebrating their success.”
It’s also an opportunity for some of UMSL’s newest alumni to meet those who earned their degrees less recently but remain strongly connected to their alma mater – and eager to see up-and-coming Tritons succeed.
Burks noted that she was a little worried she would “just graduate and be thrown out into the real world,” but the chapter’s New Graduate Recognition Ceremony left her feeling welcomed and engaged as she takes her next steps.
“Hopefully from this chapter I will gain not just networking but lifelong friends and personal connections with people in many different career paths,” she said.
Earlier in the evening, before each of the graduating students was individually recognized, attendees heard from UMSL alumnus Dorian Hall (MBA 2013, BSBA 2010), who is assistant director of event services at the Millennium Student Center where the ceremony was held as well as a pastor of a church in East St. Louis.
“If you know anything about pastors, you know we tend not to be brief, but I’m going to be brief,” began Hall, who was recently honored as a 2017 Young Leader by The St. Louis American.
True to his word, Hall offered a short address to the graduates, emphasizing that they are “made for greatness” and have already shown themselves to be up to the task when it comes to accomplishing hard things.
“There will be people who will tell you that you can’t do it,” said Hall. “But I am a testament that when you put your mind to it, when you persevere, great things can happen.”
They also heard words of encouragement from the president of the African American Alumni Chapter, Linda Brown Reed (BA 1976); Mistress of Ceremonies Sandra Marks (BSBA 1981); Deborah Burris, chief diversity officer; Associate Professor of Psychology Matthew Taylor; and UMSL Chancellor Tom George.
“I look forward to shaking your hand next weekend at one of six ceremonies – make sure you go to the right one,” George said with a smile.
The evening also included a surprise award presentation by UMSL’s Associated Black Collegians to Ashlee Roberts, assistant director of student involvement, in recognition of her outstanding guidance and dedication.
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