JACKSONVILLE, Florida — During Commencement Exercises at Edward Waters University on May 8, members of the Class of 2021 were encouraged to apply six, four-letter words to their lives: read, love, give, pray, hope and vote.
Under sunny skies and mild temperatures, Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Church and EWU Board of Trustees Chairman Bishop Adam J. Richardson, Jr. told 134 graduates the immense power in each of those words while encouraging adherence to them.
He delivered the keynote address inside Edward Waters’ Community Field & Stadium during a festive ceremony that began at 9 a.m., lasted just over two hours and was presided over by EWU President and CEO Dr. A. Zachary Faison, Jr.
“Reading has to be a daily habit,” Richardson told the graduates. “Reading makes one ready. You can’t spell ready without spelling read. I saw a bumper sticker not long ago that read, ‘if you can read this, thank a teacher.’ People who can read will often earn more over their lifetime than those who can’t, and perhaps those who can but don’t. Reading is fundamental.”
To stress the importance of love, Richardson reminded the audience of the apostle Paul’s words, ‘the greatest of these is love.’ He also invoked the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., who said, ‘love is the only force capable of transforming an enemy into a friend. Hate cannot drive out hate. Only love can do that.’
Richardson was introduced by Faison, who heralded him for his undying leadership to Edward Waters while citing some accomplishments that have occurred on his watch.
“A transformative trailblazer, Bishop Richardson has been unrelenting and unwavering in his support and advocacy for Edward Waters University,” Faison said. “His resplendent service to not only this institution but the community is evident though his vision for change and his confidence in how that change agency can create opportunities for the greater good. In his capacity as chairman of the EWU Board of Trustees, our institution has seen a multitude of significant innovations and benefited from contributions that resulted directly from his tremendous leadership.”
Faison credited Richardson with the institution being fully reaffirmed for accreditation in 2015 by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC); for construction of the EWU Center for Criminal Justice and Forensic Science, in conjunction with a partnership with the Jacksonville Sheriff’s Office; for the establishment of a Center for Health Disparities; and for various other campus improvements and renovations.
He also mentioned the Adam J. and Connie S. Richardson Hall, a 176-bed residence hall with a computer lab, lounge, study areas and high-speed internet, for which a ribbon cutting ceremony was held in late January.
During his remarks, it was evident Richardson was honored to deliver the Commencement address, which he concluded by telling graduates about the importance of voting.
“Apathy about voting is a return to bondage and a shameless disregard to the holy sacrifice of those who heroically gave the gift of blood for the right to vote,” he said. After Richardson’s 20-minute speech, Faison, Provost and Senior Vice President Dr. Donna H. Oliver and Trustees First Vice Chair Freddie Groomes-McLendon bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
Other Commencement speakers included Valedictorian Devin Robert Hunter, a mathematics major from Kentwood, Michigan, and Salutatorian Alexandria Cordelia Jackson, a psychology major from Live Oak, Florida.
Hunter will attend the University of Central Florida as a McKnight Doctoral Fellow, where he will continue his studies in the joint Master of Science and Doctoral Program in electrical engineering, with a concentration in robotics.
During Saturday’s ceremony, graduates were socially distanced on the football field and wore masks that read Class of 2021 and Class of 2020. It began with a rendition of “Lift E’vry Voice and Sing” by AyrielKelly, a sophomore business administration major, a performance of “The Star-Spangled Banner” by Joquerria Murphy, a senior communications major, and the prayer of invocation by Pastor Jared Williams, Director of Campus Ministries and Church Relations.
The renowned EWU Choir also performed, and video clips of a memorial to George Floyd and protest marches led by Black Lives Matter organizers were shown. Moreover, for three minutes at the beginning of Commencement, Faison allowed the graduates to shout, jump, clap, stomp or do whatever they chose to express their jubilation overreaching such a milestone. That moment was followed by a recording of Marvin Sapp singing “Never Would Have Made It.”
After they walked across the stage and received their degrees, Faison encouraged the graduates to make excellent use of their time moving forward.
“Don’t just spin the rest of your life. Make it count,” he said. “You have been charged. Now go forth and prosper.”