More than 500 Receive Degrees from Tuskegee University during Spring Commencement Exercises

Style News Wire | 5/11/2009, 4:16 p.m.
Tuskegee University on Sunday graduated approximately 500 students during its annual commencement exercises in the Daniel "Chappie" James Center for ...

Graduates were addressed by Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Commission on Colleges of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. She is the first African-American and the first woman to serve as head of the accrediting body, of which Tuskegee maintains academic operating status to award degrees in several fields of study.

“Learning should not stop with today’s degree,” Wheelan said. “While the Class of 2009 is the largest graduating class ever across the country, there are fewer of you to pick up the gauntlet. This means added responsibility to ensure you are successful. Tuskegee has given you this valuable skill set.

“You have the opportunity to make a difference unlike any other time in history to advance this nation.”

Two honorary degrees were conferred by Payton at the exercises: Renowned entrepreneur and contractor, Herman J. Russell, and constitutional scholar and public servant, Dr. Mary Frances Berry received the Doctor of Laws degree. Both are former members of the University’s Board of Trustees.

“These individuals have contributed immensely to the growth and development of this institution during this administration and I’m deeply grateful for their service,” Payton said.

Russell, a Tuskegee University alumnus, is founder of H.J. Russell Construction Company. The firm built the Atlanta Fulton County Stadium, the Atlanta Life Insurance Company, and the headquarters for Georgia-Pacific and Coca-Cola. The company also worked on the Georgia Dome, Centennial Olympic Stadium, Turner Field and Philips Arena. On the Tuskegee University campus, he constructed and/or renovated the National Center for Bioethics in Research and Health Care, the Daniel “Chappie” James Center for Aerospace Science and Health Education, a new facility for maintenance operations and James Hall.  He upgraded mechanical systems in Olivia Davidson and Lewis Adams residential halls. Russell was also named the first black member of the Atlanta Chamber of Commerce.

Russell has served his home of Atlanta in a variety of capacities, including donating money to help bring the Martin Luther King papers to the city and donating three $1 million endowments to three higher education institutions, including his alma mater.

Berry is the Geraldine R. Segal Professor of American Social Thought and Professor of History at the University of Pennsylvania where she teaches History of American Law and advises graduate students in Legal History and African American History. She was appointed by President Jimmy Carter as a Commissioner on the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. Under the administration of President William Jefferson Clinton, she was designated as Chairperson of the Civil Rights Commission in 1993. She was also one of the founders of the Free South Africa Movement in the 1980s.

Berry has served as Assistant Secretary for the Education in the U.S. Department of Health, Education and Welfare during the Carter Administration; provost at the University of Maryland, College Park; and chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.

Immediately following Commencement, the Veterinary Medicine degree-holders took their oath to service in the University Chapel. Fifty-four candidates received the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine degree.

Other Commencement activities included: The Induction of Teacher Education Candidates was held on Friday, May 8, in the Kellogg Conference Center. The speaker for the event was Dr. Betsy Rogers, the 2003 National Teacher of the Year. Fourteen students were inducted.

On Saturday, May 9, the Army and Air Force ROTC Officers' Commission was held in the Tuskegee University Chapel. The speaker for the occasion was Brig. Gen. Alfred J. Stewart of the U.S. Air Force. Nine students were commissioned.

Also Saturday, the Nursing and Allied Health Capping and Pinning Ceremony was held.

A tradition of the University President, a reception for the graduation candidates and their parents, was held at Grey Columns, the President's Home, following the day's activities.