It is commencement season for the nation’s colleges and universities, and among the institutions conferring degrees are historically Black colleges and universities (HBCU’s). Despite increased options for Black students seeking a higher education, HBCU’s remain a popular choice and some have shown resiliency in marketing their unique settings to a new generation of high school students. As mortarboards fly off the heads of members of the Class of 2011, a new chapter will be written on the development and advancement of Black Americans.
For two schools, this year’s graduation holds special meaning. Like Xavier University and Dillard University in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, St. Augustine’s College and Shaw University in Raleigh are recovering after being affected by a devastating tornado three weeks ago. Both colleges sustained major damage, with Shaw’s campus so severely impacted that the remainder of the spring semester was canceled and its students sent home. Last Sunday, St. Augustine College presented the 249 members of the Class of 2011 with degrees as that campus is undergoing a recovery effort. According to published reports the ceremony was not without controversy as the student body president alluded to the exclusion of a student who campus officials allege tried to incite students during the storm.
Across town Shaw University is preparing for its commencement exercise on Saturday. Shaw faces a difficult rebuilding process as several buildings on the campus sustained major damage, so much so that the university is closed indefinitely as the administration attempts to map out a recovery plan. The university’s summer session is in question and there is no indication how Shaw will offer courses in the fall.
Recognizing the impact of the tornado on the Shaw community, University President Dr. Irma McClaurin announced yesterday that all seniors, including those who have not fulfilled all of their academic requirements or met their financial obligations, will be allowed to participate in commencement. “I saw a tearful senior on the steps of Estery Hall and knew we had to do something under these circumstances,” noted Dr. McClaurin, “In the face of our recovery from disaster, I believe now is the time for us as an institution to act compassionately and with a generosity of spirit.”
There are approximately 116 seniors who will be allowed to march with the 404 seniors who have fulfilled all of their obligations but they will not receive their degrees until they satisfy all graduation requirements. A Baccalaureate Service will be held this evening at 6 p.m. in the Thomas J. Boyd Chapel on the university campus. The featured speaker at the service will be Dr. Quincy Scott, the retired university chaplain. Saturday’s commencement will take place at 11:00 a.m. in J.S. Dorton Arena at the North Carolina State Fairgrounds. The commencement speaker will be former Rep. Bob Etheridge who represented North Carolina’s second congressional district in the U.S. House of Representatives.
Photo Credit: St. Augustine's College