TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Tomorrow, May 2, more than 1,200 Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) students will be sent off to the next chapter of their lives with inspiring words of wisdom from U.S. Secretary of Agriculture Tom Vilsack and alumnus and filmmaker Will Packer. Not only will the day’s events mark the completion of academic goals for many of the graduates, but it will also celebrate the courage that many FAMU students exhibit as they pursue their dreams despite the odds against them.
Among the graduates will be Tallahassee native Cathy Williams, a 62-year-old grandmother who will share the graduation stage with her granddaughter Chelsea Washington. After diligently serving many years as an employee of the State, Williams decided that it was time for her to pursue a college degree. She courageously decided to look beyond what some would consider the limitations of age and chase her college dreams.
She took the first step by enrolling in Tallahassee Community College while working full time. After receiving her associate degree in 2012, she decided it was time to fulfill another goal, and applied to complete her undergraduate education at FAMU. Tomorrow she will receive a degree in political science with a minor in criminal justice.
“There is no age limit on pursuing a degree and pursuing your dreams,” said Williams, whose next goal is to obtain a master’s degree in public or business administration.
According to Washington, graduating with Williams is a moment she will never forget. She will walk the stage with one of her greatest motivators.
“She motivates me by her drive for success,” said Washington, who will receive a bachelor’s degree in biology.
Inspired by the passion of her grandmother, Washington will continue her education at Howard University’s College of Medicine. Her career goal is to become a pediatrician.
“I want to come back home to Tallahassee and open a pediatric facility that will provide services for the underprivileged and do research on autism,” said Washington, who is one of three grandchildren that had the privilege of attending FAMU with their grandmother.
Williams and Washington will graduate during the 9 a.m. ceremony.
International Student Defies the Odds and Graduates with Honors
Joining the grandmother-granddaughter duo tomorrow in their celebration of courage is international student Christina Darville. A mixed media artist, Darville came to FAMU on mere faith.
She had completed her associate degree at the College of the Bahamas and excelled in its arts education program, but when Darville decided that she no longer wanted to teach art her parents became nervous. Teaching was a stable career, but she decided that her true passion was creating art instead of teaching it. However, how she would become a successful artist left looming question marks for her parents. Most of all, Darville did not know how she would cover the cost of going back to school to become an artist – her parents simply could not afford it.
“I knew where they were coming from, and I didn’t want to believe what they were saying when they questioned my decision,” she said. “Yet, something inside of me was telling me that it would work out based on the whole idea of having faith. I told myself: You can do what you put your mind to.”
Darville would soon find out that fate was blowing her way. Her high grades in community college and high school made her the perfect candidate for government programs that afforded her scholarships to FAMU and in-state tuition. She was notified that she was a recipient of several awards just in time. Her courageous dream was becoming a reality.
“I knew that if I went on this journey I would have to find avenues that would help support my dream. I just wanted to do art. I didn’t know how it was going to happen, but it did,” she said. “I’m the first one to get a degree in my family and I thank FAMU and the people and programs who supported me along the way for their part in that.”
Tomorrow she will see the fruits of her courage, as she will graduate with honors with a bachelor’s degree in fine arts. And with that degree, she will take with her international and local accolades, including being featured in the LeMoyne Arts Festival, Arc Magazine, and the Starry Night “Artists To Look Out For” Catalogue, as well as being named an Antonius Roberts Resident.
Darville is just one of many international students who have found success at FAMU and in celebration of the University’s global reach, several key figures in international higher education will be attending the commencement services and meet with President Elmira Mangum, Ph.D. to discuss furthering the University’s efforts.
Among the distinguished guests are Jose Vicente, rector of Zumbi dos Palmares University in Brazil and president of the Afro-Brazilian Society of Socio-Cultural Development, and representatives from the HBCU-Brazil Alliance and White House HBCU Initiative.
The commencement ceremonies will also serve as a celebration of the 125th anniversary of the signing of the Second Morrill Act of 1890. Under the Act, FAMU became a land-grant institution and received its charge to serve as a teaching, research, and extension institution, as well as to provide agricultural, mechanical arts, and military education.
Commencement services will be held at the Alfred L. Lawson, Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium, located at 1800 Wahnish Way in Tallahassee. Vilsack will serve as the speaker for the 9 a.m. ceremony, and Packer will serve as the speaker for the 2 p.m. ceremony.