U.S. Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III urged Florida A&M University graduates to have a sense of humility and to go out and make history, like other FAMU alumni before them.
“Humility will let you recognize your strengths as well as your weaknesses. It will enable you to grow and to make a difference,” said Austin, who addressed the Saturday evening gathering via livestream from a podium at the Pentagon.
During his speech, Austin, a retired four-star general, paid tribute to two FAMU alumni who made military history. He invoked the heroic memory of Lt. James Polkinghorne, a fighter pilot who was shot down over Italy during World War II. Austin also spoke about Air Force Brigadier General Konata Crumbly. Commissioned in the FAMU ROTC program, Crumbly became a Black Hawk pilot and served combat in Yugoslavia, then was a U.S. Air Force pilot flying combat missions in Iraq and Afghanistan.
“I am proud of his dedication and discipline, and I’m honored to be on the same team,” said Austin, who recalled FAMU alum Patricia Stephens Due’s words that “history happens one person at a time.”
“Go out and make some history. Find ways to serve your country in its time of need and make this world a more just and decent place,” Austin told graduates from the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities. “We don’t get to choose our times, but we do get to shape them.”
Austin, the first African American to head the Defense Department, also officiated at the commissioning ceremony for members of the Army, Navy, and Air Force Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) graduating class who were among about 1,200 students who earned degrees.
During the four weekend ceremonies, President Larry Robinson, Ph.D., acknowledged the tough year students, faculty and staff endured as they coped with the COVID-19 pandemic. He lauded students for “taking the pandemic seriously.”
“I am optimistic about the future of the nation, the world and this University,” Robinson said. “Thanks for your perseverance. It shows what can be accomplished by pushing forward and never giving up.”
Arthenia Joyner: Define Your Purpose
On Friday evening, former state Senator Arthenia Joyner called on graduates to define their purpose the way she was forced to do as a FAMU undergraduate in the early 1960s when the nation was at a crossroads and a time of racial reckoning was at hand.
“I could not sit down while the world began to stand up,” said Joyner, who was jailed for her activism. “I took to the streets with other Florida A&M students to tear down the walls of separation and let us in.”
In a stirring address to graduates from the School of Allied Health Sciences, School of Environment and the College of Education, Joyner criticized an “alarming roll back” of many of the hard-fought gains won during the civil rights era. She cited the more than 361 voter suppression bills introduced by 47 legislatures across the country, including Florida, where despite the success of the 2021 election, legislation was introduced to change vote-by-mail rules. Joyner also criticized legislation that could criminalize protests.
The Tampa attorney said such legislation is being pushed by “men who never had their right to vote challenged or outright blocked, men who never had to protest, men who never had to worry about what neighborhood to live in, men who were never followed in a store or being stopped by law enforcement.”
A graduate of the last class of the original FAMU law school that was closed in 1968, Joyner recalled the pain of seeing textbooks transferred to the Florida State University College of Law and her fight as a senator decades later to prevent the split of the FAMU-FSU College of Engineering in 2014.
“I fought that change with every fibre of my being. And so too did FAMU students who recognized what the move was all about. We won. The School of Engineering still stands as evidence to the power of vigilance,” said Joyner, who in closing encouraged the Class of 2021 to “Define your purpose and go forth and do great things.”
Brian Lamb: Tools for Success
During the Saturday morning ceremony, Board of Governors Vice Chair Brian Lamb addressed students graduating from the College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health and the School of Business and Industry.
Lamb offered tools – preparedness, relationships, intersection and reputation – that graduates needed to make their mark.
“Think about what it takes to be successful. Do the work in advance and that allows you to perform at an elite level,” Lamb told the hushed audience. He also extolled the value of relationships.
“Relationships require you to invest in someone else and they invest in you. Hold each other accountable and challenge each other to be great,” he continued.
Lamb, who grew up in Tallahassee and attended FAMU High, also urged graduates to closely guard their reputations. “A good name is hard to find,” said Lamb, who earned bachelor’s and master’s degrees from the University of South Florida and is the global head of Diversity & Inclusion at JPMorgan Chase & Co. “My mother taught me about the importance of a good name.
Keith Clinkscales: The FAMU Network
On Sunday, Keith Clinkscales, a FAMU School of Business & Industry graduate and founder of The Shadow League and former ESPN executive, recounted his accidental journey from Trumbull, Connecticut, to FAMU. He didn’t know FAMU was a Historically Black College and University (HBCU) until he moved into Sampson Hall.
Clinkscales cited the names of successful alumni such as Atlanta Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms, movie mogul Will Packer, and ABC News President Kim Godwin as examples of luminaries who make up the FAMU alumni network.
“Upon your graduation today you are provided access to a special tool…the FAMU Network. For the rest of your life you will be able to call on and reach out to people who went to FAMU and find different ways to build your own network,” Clinkscales said. “When someone from FAMU calls, you better get back to them.”