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Cheyney University Class of 2014 On Way to Destiny

May 11, 2014

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Class of 2014 Valedictorian, Patricia Bell, addresses her peers. The summa cum laude graduate finished with a 3.98 GPA and degree in both Psychology and Social Relations. She told her classmates: "If you exude confidence, demonstrate your competence, and show yourself to be that reflective visionary leader that this great university continues to produce, then your success will be inevitable."

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Despite an afternoon that brought torrential downpours, Cheyney University's 2014 commencement went off without a hitch beginning at 11 am under the sun and the shade of a huge white tent on the school's Historic Quadrangle. As the University Band played Pomp and Circumstance, nearly 200 graduates marched forth to collect their undergraduate or graduate degrees that they worked so hard to attain.

Commencement Speaker Randal D. Pinkett began by addressing the graduates with an energetic and resounding shout; "C-U!" To which the class echoed as Cheyney alumni around the globe do in response, "C-U!"

Pinkett, an entrepreneur, scholar, author, motivational speaker and winner of the fourth season of NBC's Apprentice reality show, gave a riveting speech. He challenged them to believe like they did when they were children--if their mind can conceive it then they can achieve it.

Dr. Pinkett told them how to go from the Road Less Traveled to the Road Never Traveled as the next generation of Cheyney Trailblazers by using his own life experiences as examples. 

"What do you do when there is no road--no path neatly laid out to follow?" he asked. "At the end of the day, no two paths are alike. All trailblazers are traveling in unchartered territory."

Pinkett told how his dad died when he was young and, when it came time for college, his mom gave him no other choice but Rutgers University in his home state of NJ. His senior year at Rutgers, a professor suggested that he apply for a prestigious Rhodes scholarship, then nagged him until he did.

"I was the first African American in the history of Rutgers University to receive a Rhodes scholarship. At that time, the road underneath my feet became the road never traveled," he shared.

After graduating from Rutgers and going on to earn two Masters Degrees and a Ph. D., Pinkett married his wife Zahara. One day she suggested--then nagged him until he sought a spot on The Apprentice. Out of one million applicants, only 18 made it onto the show. "Only one brother was chosen and that brother was me," Pinkett said, not to brag, but to prove a point. "The road less traveled became the road no one had traveled. I was in unchartered territory."

Dr. Pinkett went on to list some Cheyney graduates who blazed their own trails to greatness: CBS Journalist and 60 Minutes Host Ed Bradley ('64), Robert Bogle (73), President and CEO of the Philadelphia Tribune; and Charles A. Highsmith, Sr., ground-breaking educator and Tuskegee airman ('43).

"They possess what I call the mindset of a trailblazer. They believe that whatever their mind can conceive, they can achieve. They have the audacity to dream the impossible dream and pursue it." Pinkett continued; "You can do anything, be anything, accomplish anything." He then cautioned them not to let the -ism's of the world suppress their childhood voice in their ears. "Don't let racism, sexism, negativism, cynicism, or pessimism suppress your dream," he said. "Don't let anything or anyone limit your possibilities."

So, what do you do when there's no longer a road or path, Pinkett asked? "The road is made as one walks. You make the road. Cheyney graduates have been making the roads for 177 years throughout history. Walk on and know that you can do great things."

Class Valedictorian, Patricia Bell, a member of the Keystone Honors Academy (KHA) and recipient of many awards, spoke to her class. Bell was offered an internship with the Pennsylvania Black Caucus this summer, and is also preparing her research to present at an American Psychological Association Division 45 conference next month.

Class President Tempest Kerr gave a farewell address on behalf of the class of 2014. "Cheyney has given us strength," she told them. "I stand here today, ready and fearless to take on the world. Cheyney has made us ready.  It is time to say goodbye but we will always be wolves that bleed blue and white!"

Before the day was through, Highsmith received a Posthumous Honorary Doctorate Degree which his son, Charles A. Highsmith, Jr. ('71), accepted on his behalf. They are part of the legendary Highsmith family which received the Cheyney University National Alumni Association (CUNAA) Legacy Family Award in 2012.

In addition, Cheyney President Dr. Michelle R. Howard-Vital presented Pinkett with the Humanitarian Service Award, Dr. Rita Johnson, a Psychology Professor for 15 years at CU, received the Lindback Distinguished Teaching Award for her exemplary teaching skills, and graduating senior Desmond King, Mr. Blue and White, was recognized by CUNAA President Junious "Rick" Stanton for being the youngest lifetime member of CUNAA.  

As the ceremony came to an end, seniors fought back tears as they posed for pictures and, in some cases, went back to their residence halls to pack and leave campus one last time.

Alton Warren, a major in Social Relations with a concentration in Criminal Justice, said he's apprehensive about the future and leaves Cheyney with mixed feelings.  "I don't know what direction to go into right now," he confessed, "whether to go in the Police Academy or go back and get my master's degree."

Richona Wright, a KHA scholar, is all set for her next step.  She graduated magna cum laude and is headed to Widener University Law School on a full scholarship.

"I'm excited but I'm nervous," she shared.  "Law School is a whole other arena. I'm excited to start something new and make my family proud."

She's already made her family proud.  The youngest of four children, Richona's the only one to graduate from college.  It's bittersweet, though, because her father, who passed away suddenly two years ago, wasn't here to share the milestone but her family was.

"Blessed is the best word to describe how I feel," her mother, Destini McKnight, said through teary eyes. "These are special moments that you dream about.  Being able to see it come to fruition is a beautiful thing. Richona has talked about going to law school since she was 10 years old.  Today is a great day."