37th Annual Commencement
Washington, DC – More than 650 graduates sprightly marched to a triumphant recessional of Pomp and Circumstance after receiving their degrees at the 37th Annual Commencement Convocation of the University of the District of Columbia. Interim President, Dr. James E. Lyons presided over Saturday's ceremony at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, during which degree candidates heard an inspiring keynote address delivered by author and historian, Dr. Mary Francis Berry. Those in attendance also witnessed honorary degrees bestowed upon Berry and longtime community leaders, William R. Spaulding and Marie C. Johns.
Berry, the distinguished professor of American Social Thought and History at the University of Pennsylvania, has fought for justice and civil rights for over four decades. Her illustrious career in public service includes more than ten years as chair of the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights. She has also served as Provost of the University of Maryland, and became the first woman and African-American to serve as chancellor of the University of Colorado at Boulder.
In reading from the honorary doctorate citation, Interim President Lyons noted that Berry was recognized for her outstanding leadership and advocacy for the civil rights of all people, particularly those who are most often victimized and underserved.
"Her scholarship, courage and determination have helped to inform the policies and practices that she works so tirelessly to improve," he read. "Dr. Berry serves as a shining example for new generations of students and future leaders. For representing UDC's values so well, we are proud to honor her achievements and contributions to the nation and to the international community."
After being presented with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree, Berry congratulated the entire audience, including graduates and their families, faculty, and administrators for their collective achievement. She then reminded degree candidates of the underlying significance of reaching their goal.
"Remember, this diploma represents more than academic accomplishment," she said. "It signifies that you are persistent and can therefore achieve whatever goal you set for yourself. You've gotten something important here that will enhance your lives. Your innate perseverance will make it possible for you to overcome whatever challenges you may face for the rest of your lives."
Berry offered a brief commentary on the status of civil justice in the District of Columbia. She said that by many measures the City has made great progress, but offered a few challenges that DC residents still face.
We must face some of the more negative aspects of gentrification; unemployment remains high; the war on poverty is ongoing; and the City still suffers because we don't have democracy," she noted. "You've been educated to help deal with some of these social problems. As you look to the future, I charge you to hold tight to your grounding at UDC and the values for which it stands. As you pursue a paycheck, you must also have a civic consciousness and be willing to take on responsibilities greater than yourself."
Also receiving honorary degrees were former Deputy Administrator of the Small Business Administration, Marie C. Johns, and the Honorable William R. Spaulding, an educator and civic pioneer who was elected to the original D.C. City Council.
In accepting the honor, Ms. John's thanked University officials and paid tribute to her fellow class of 2014. She told the audience of the personal significance that the University represents.
"UDC has always had a very special place in my heart because many of the students remind me of how I was many years ago; young and married with a job and parenting responsibilities; taking classes at night and struggling. I know that pattern, "she said. "And that's why UDC is so very important because it provides a path for those who need to do this in a non-traditional way."
The path that UDC provides was paved in part through the efforts of William R. Spaulding, who was awarded an honorary degree. As a member of the DC City Council, Spaulding successfully crafted the 1975 DC Law 1-36, which led to unanimous approval of legislation to consolidate the three predecessor institutions that created the University of the District of Columbia.
After slowly making his way to the podium and receiving his doctoral hood, the dignified 89 year-old gentleman graciously acknowledged the honor.
"I thank you kindly," he said, softly. It's been my privilege and honor to serve."
The University of the District of Columbia (www.udc.edu) supports a broad mission of education, research and community service across its colleges and schools: the College of Arts and Sciences; the College of Agriculture, Urban Sustainability and Environmental Sciences; the School of Business and Public Administration; School of Engineering and Applied Sciences; the Community College; and the David A. Clarke School of Law. The University has been designated as an 1862 federal land-grant institution and a Historically Black College and University.
The University of the District of Columbia is an Equal Opportunity/Affirmative Action institution. Minorities, women, veterans and persons with disabilities are encouraged to apply. For a full version of the University's EO Policy Statement, please visit http://www.udc.edu/equal_opportunity.
The University of the District of Columbia is accredited by the Middle States Commission on Higher Education, 3624 Market Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104, (267) 284–5000.