On April 30, 2016, more than 1,200 students will become alumni of Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU) and enter into the next chapter of their lives as global citizens ready to put the knowledge they have gained into action.
Students will receive degrees ranging from agribusiness and computer science to nursing and educational leadership.
Addressing the students, who will eagerly receive their diplomas as they prepare to make their marks on the world, are U.S. Secretary of Education John B. King, Jr., J.D., Ed.D., who was appointed by President Barack Obama in 2015, and former U.S. Representative and Florida Commissioner of Agriculture Adam H. Putnam.
The ceremonies will be held at the Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center and Teaching Gymnasium, located at 1800 Wahnish Way in Tallahassee. King will deliver the commencement address at 9 a.m. and Putnam will deliver the address at 2 p.m.
Putnam has played an instrumental role in supporting and promoting FAMU’s agricultural and research priorities, including the historic Brooksville land transfer from the USDA – the largest in history to a historically Black college or university.
During FAMU’s recent College of Agriculture and Food Sciences Research Forum, Putnam, who served as a panelist, gave special recognition to the University, applauding FAMU for its successful strides in agriculture and extension outreach services as a land-grant institution.
“Our land-grant institutions are not only helping us on the farmers’ side, but also on the outreach side, so people know how to make healthier choices and how to stretch their household budget,” Putnam said. “We can’t do it without the extension services making it possible. A future that needs to feed 10 billion people worldwide means land-grant institutions are more important than ever.”
King is a trailblazer in the education landscape. He previously oversaw the Department of Education’s cross-agency collaboration for President Obama’s My Brother’s Keeper task force, which seeks to address persistent opportunity gaps faced by boys and young men of color. He was the first African American and Puerto Rican to serve as New York State’s education commissioner.
King is also a strong advocate for the important role HBCU’s play in the U.S. education system.
“HBCUs have significantly contributed to the number of graduates in our nation in critical areas,” King said in a recent speech during Black History Month. “HBCUs make up just three percent of colleges and universities, but produce 27 percent of African Americans with bachelors’ degrees in STEM fields.”
According to President Elmira Mangum, Ph.D., the two speakers represent the important role that college graduates can play as trailblazers in their respective industries. She explained that this year’s commencement speakers represent two of the most significant sectors vital to our nation’s success and sustainability – education and agriculture.
“It is critically important that our students hear from diverse leaders and learn from the wisdom they have gained in navigating their careers and life in general,” Mangum said. “When our students enter the workforce, they will work with leaders who offer varying life and work perspectives. So it is important that our commencement speakers represent the global marketplace that our graduates will soon enter. It is also noteworthy to have two speakers who are believers in the integral role FAMU plays as a land-grant, doctoral research institution.”
Mangum also pointed to the fact that both Putnam and King are living testaments that there are no limits to when you can begin to break barriers and chart new paths in your career.
“Commissioner Putnam was only 22 when he was elected to the Florida House of Representatives and Secretary King was one of the nation’s youngest state education leaders when serving as the commissioner of education for the state of New York,” she said. “Our speakers know what it’s like to be young and poised for greatness even when the odds are against you. So, you have a fifth generation cattle rancher and citrus grower from Polk County (Putnam) and a young man (King) who lost both of his parents by the age of 12 and found the strength to elevate himself above that pain and rise to the top ranks of the U.S. Government.”
During the commencement ceremonies, President Mangum will honor several students with the Strong Finish Award. Strong Finish is a program funded by FAMU alumnus and Microsoft Chairman John W. Thompson and his wife, Sandi, which is presented to graduates who, despite their own challenges, successfully completed their degrees on time without the support of scholarship dollars. Graduates receiving the award receive a grant to help pay down loans they may have accumulated while in college and a stipend to help them transition from school to work.