Graduates Encouraged to Embody Spirit of Marion Nine
By Hazel Scott/ASU
Alabama State University’s fall Class of 2021 is no ordinary graduating class. The class is made up of leaders, scholars, trailblazers, veterans and heroes.
No matter what they are individually, they are collectively part of ASU’s storied history and established family.
ASU honored these graduates by conferring more than 300 degrees on Friday, Dec. 3, to the University’s newest alumni at the 304th Commencement Convocation. The event was held in person with two ceremonies at the ASU Stadium.
As the ceremonies began, ASU President, Dr. Quinton T. Ross, Jr., asked the audience to pause for a moment in recognition of the Hornets who passed recently: faculty member, Dr. Cynthia Harris; staff member. Takesha Braswell; and student, Isaiah Searcy.
Keynote speaker Ronnie Thomas, a veteran educator and an active member of the Hornet Nation Family, addressed the graduates across two ceremonies. He began his speech by saying how “humbled and thankful” he was to have the opportunity to speak at his alma mater.
He discussed the importance of embodying the spirit and fortitude of ASU’s founders, nine formerly enslaved men known as the Marion Nine (Joey P. Pinch, Thomas Speed, Nicholas Dale, James Childs, Thomas Lee, John Freeman, Nathan Levert, David Harris and Alexander H. Curtis).
“…I’m reminded of the humble beginnings of ASU and our purpose of being here today. The concept of stronger together and power in numbers resonates with me and hopefully with our graduates. There is nothing that we can’t accomplish when we streamline our efforts and resources. That’s exactly what the Marion Nine did,” Thomas said. “The Marion Nine, along with the help of others, raised $500, which is equivalent to about $9,000 today. They used that money to acquire land and in 1867, they established the Lincoln Normal School at Marion.”
Now 154 years later, Thomas said Alabama State University still celebrates the vision of its founders to help people pursue their dreams of obtaining a college education.
“The Marion Nine saw a need in their community and they collectively worked toward a solution. That spirit carried on throughout the Civil Rights Movement and it lives here today,” Thomas emphasized. \
To help ASU continue that vision, Thomas said he and his siblings will start a scholarship next year in honor of his late mother, an educator and a 1964 ASU graduate, for a student majoring in education.
He talked about the effect that many of the University’s faculty had on him and how the newest alumni should tap into the University community for continuous support. “Go back to this sacred place and get what you need on your journey. It’s a family community that’s there for you,” he said.
Thomas concluded by encouraging the graduates to carry the vision of the Marion Nine and be changemakers. “You have a hand in shaping our culture, making the world better and leaving long-lasting legacies behind. So, I encourage you today to create a modern-day Marion Nine. In this group of like-minded individuals, share resources and support one another in an effort to address the needs of our community. Develop and maintain a growth mindset. Take initiative and put yourself in a distinctive lane within your industry. And above all, chase your passion. Collective work and living a passion-driven life are the two key takeaways to remember through your journey. I challenge you to go out and become changemakers like the Marion Nine. Go and attack opportunities. Go and be Great!” he added.
Thomas demonstrated his points by placing liquid nitrogen into a container on stage to represent the opportunities that lie before the graduates, and a container of hot water to represent the preparation that the graduates gained at ASU. When he joined the two together, smoke bellowed from the containers and the audience immediately clapped and cheered.
“When preparation meets opportunity something amazing happens,” he added.
Walking the Stage
As the fall Class of 2021 from both ceremonies prepared to receive their diplomas, there were radiant smiles and perhaps a few nervous butterflies as they savored their few final moments together before coming to the most important part of the ceremony -- walking across the stage.
Each row of graduates was escorted to the foot of the stage where they waited in line. Once they heard their names called, each one took the first step on stage amid cheers and applause from family and friends. It was a celebration of a milestone.
During the two ceremonies, ASU honored those candidates that were recipients of the President’s Award, which is presented to graduating seniors with GPAs ranging from 3.75 to 4.0. Honor graduates were awarded a black and gold ribbon with a medallion. The W. E. B. DuBois honor graduates also were recognized.
President Ross emphasized that Commencement is an important time where we celebrate the culmination of graduates’ hard work and achievements.
“To the entire class of 2021, as you prepare to depart, I charge you to leave with an assignment. I encourage each of you to seize every opportunity to rise to higher and higher levels of professional and personal success. With discipline, honesty and commitment to hard work, you will do justice to the University’s reputation for excellence. The hopes of your families will be realized and generations past and present, on whom shoulders you stand, will rejoice in your success. Congratulations and know that we are truly proud of each and every one of you,” Ross said.
To provide a safe and memorable event, the graduation followed CDC guidelines and University protocols for large gatherings.