Traditional commencement ceremonies in Mississippi have been cancelled or postponed because of the coronavirus pandemic. Although graduates are beginning to receive their degrees through virtual celebrations, not being able to walk across the stage is disappointing for some and their families. MPB’s Ashley Norwood reports.
Laquisha Davis is first in her family to graduate from college.
“Whew, I’m not even trying to cry right now. My family was known for the ones that always have kids. ‘Oh, they are not going to school. None of their kids are going to make it,” said Davis.
Davis says she’s disappointed her friends and loved ones won’t see her graduate. Some were planning to travel from as far as Chicago just to see her walk across the stage.
“I’m the first of my family to actually finish something without giving up. There were times I wanted to give up but I didn’t because I had those people to keep encouraging me. It hurts,” said Davis.
Davis is receiving a bachelor’s degree in professional studies with a minor in family studies and psychology from Mississippi University for Women in Columbus. The Yazoo City native says she wants to become a counselor one day. Graduating with a 3.0 average, Davis says this win wasn’t only for her but her entire family as well.
“I broke that chain because I don’t feel like no one should ever go through someone telling you that you can’t,” said Davis.
Graduating from college is a milestone for many African American families. Historically, slavery and segregation limited their access to attaining higher education.
According to the Postsecondary National Policy Institute, African American enrollment in college is catching up to their white counterparts. But there has been less progress in closing the degree attainment gap.
In 2018, 23% of the black population aged 25 to 29 held a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 44% of the white population in the same age group.
Jeryl Briggs is president of Mississippi Valley State University in Itta Bena. He says in the absence of in-person commencement ceremonies, it’s still critically important universities acknowledge student achievement.
"Life is full of chapters and getting that college degree is just one of those chapters and to be able to fulfill that is just so important. So I realize and I think we all realize to be able to acknowledge this accomplishment at this time, even though it has to be virtual, is extremely important,” said Briggs.
Valley State along with Mississippi University for Women, University of Mississippi and Jackson State will award degrees virtually this Saturday.
Kirk Williams, born in Chicago but raised in Jackson, is receiving a master’s of arts in urban and regional planning from Jackson State. He says he’s familiar with the feeling of overcoming obstacles.
From me being homeless with my siblings or me being shot almost losing my life everything I went through kind of dimmed my hope in the future. It’s like I had to live in the moment of now. Somehow, I just didn’t see a way out of it,” said Williams.
Now that Williams is graduating, he says he’s focused on using the degree he worked so hard to earn to serve his community.
“For those that understand the true significance of why you went to school or why you took those hard hours of studying late night burning oil trying to make sure your assignment is on time, a good deed is always noticed. And, the doors that you’ve been seeking for will eventually open for you,” said Williams.
Before the coronavirus pandemic, Williams expected to share this moment of success with his daughter. She’s a high school senior who would've been graduating the same day as her dad. Despite not being able to walk across the stage or celebrate with family and friends, Williams says this journey of life has been both challenging and rewarding. Ashley Norwood, MPB News