A common theme emerged as the Commencement ceremony for graduates of National Louis University’s College of Professional Studies and Advancement unfolded June 16.
After graduates receiving their bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees marched in to excited waves from friends and family, NLU President Nivine Megahed, Ph.D., introduced the Commencement speaker, Michael Sorrell, Ed.D.
Fortune Magazine recently ranked Sorrell, a Chicago native, on its list of the world’s 50 greatest leaders. He turned around Dallas’ Paul Quinn College, a historically black college which was about to shut down, into a thriving college through innovations trumpeted in the media.
Sorrell started by noting the majority of K-12 students in the United States are on free and reduced lunches, and the majority of college students receive Pell grants. Thus, education is a story of people coming from, and trying to overcome, scarcity.
“People like you, like us, don’t tell our story,” he said. “…I am here to tell you it doesn’t make you less than, it makes you more than. I am here to tell you you need to tell that story.”
He told of how Paul Quinn College could not get a grocer to locate in its area, a food desert, so it cut the football program and planted a farm on the football field. People told them their students couldn’t afford college, so they cut tuition and fees by $10,000 and created a system in which all students get jobs. It told of those innovations on social media, and traditional media picked up the story.
“When people are dismissive, tell them shut up,” he said. “You have to meet people who are not in your corner head on. When you do that you will find out you have friends in places you never knew of. Because one thing America really loves the underdog. And they love the underdog who tells their story.”
He told grads that Paul Quinn College would support them in telling their story.
“At the end of the day we want a dream that is so big and so bold it scares you,” he asserted. “But that’s what dreams are for. That’s what dreams can do.”
Alison Hilsabeck, Ph.D., NLU Provost, introduced the recipient of CPSA’s Distinguished Teaching Award: Elizabeth Schaefer of the M.S. in Written Communication program.
Schaefer accepted the award and, as a writer herself, also encouraged students to find their voices.
Sometimes, she observed to the grads, you may feel like your voice is a fumbling clutter of words and notions in your mind that you can’t quite articulate. Other times, you can’t quite summon the courage to chime in.
“That clutter, that apprehension, are the wheels of your voice. They turning, they’re active they’re alive. Those wheels are taking you to where you want to go. …There’s brilliance churning in that brain of yours, there’s music in that mind.”
She concluded with some words of encouragement. “Anytime you question your voice, anytime you doubt its significance or finesse,” she said, “lift up that diploma of yours, and remind yourself, this is proof that my voice is resounding.”
Hilsabeck also introduced the CPSA student speaker, La’shawn Littrice, who was receiving her Ph.D. in Community Psychology. Earlier in her life, Littrice had opened an accounting firm after earning her bachelor’s degree. She then earned a master’s in public policy at NLU.
Littrice, who spent about four years incarcerated, founded a nonprofit organization to help men who are reentering society after incarceration. While incarcerated herself, she taught accounting classes, but became extremely ill with a disease similar to lupus and said she faced challenges getting appropriate treatment. After being released, she founded an organization called Black Lives Matter Women of Faith.
Her dissertation was titled, “Intergenerational Separation and Movement Toward Reunion: A Mixed Quantitative and Qualitative Methods Examination of Parents, Incarceration, and Relationships with their Children.”
Littrice spoke of her professors’ innovations, the fact she could call them anytime with questions, and how close her cohort of fellow students had become.
“Many of us faced obstacles that would have caused us to throw in the towel, but what we shared is a common denominator, that we are all fighters,” she said.
“Anything worth having is worth working hard for.”
The Commencement ceremony took a solemn turn when Ericka Mingo, Ph.D., made a touching presentation to award student Ndueso Udoiwod his degree posthumously. Udoiwod had earned the Ph.D. in Community Psychology by researching the Nigerian community in Chicago. His family accepted his diploma and doctoral hood on his behalf.