An Iconic Graduation at Talladega College

Talladega, Alabama—What do a television and movie star, Baseball legend and Civil Rights Leader all have in common? They all attended Talladega College’s 138th Commencement ceremony. The movie star and baseball legend were previously scheduled, but the appearance of the Civil Rights leader was indeed a welcoming honor.

NBC’s Law & Order and Guys With Kids star, comedian and writer, Anthony Anderson was the Commencement speaker. He opened with, “Hold on one second, I have my theme music for you guys today,” and then Anderson put his phone over the mic as it played rapper Drake’s song, “Started from the Bottom Now We’re Here.” The crowd of graduates and visitors chimed in with the lyrics and Anderson seconded, “We all started from the bottom, now we’re here.” His opening comments were full of jest and cheer, but then he began his formal address; “today he or she (your loved one) will step across this stage and receive a college degree, an accomplishment that not everyone in college achieves, myself included.” Anderson previously attended Howard University.

During his discourse, he urged the audience, “I want you to lie, I want you to cheat, and I want you to steal. I want you to lie to those who say that you can’t do it, and agree with them and then do it ten times better than they can ever imagine doing it themselves. I want you to cheat: cheat death, cheat mediocrity and cheat failure every chance you get. And steal every moment that comes in your life to become successful. It’s not going to be easy, but nothing worth it ever is.”

Anderson ended his speech with his own personal reflections of Langston Hughes’ famous poem, “Mother to Son.” He said the stairs of life are full of splinters, tacks and landings. He related those three in this way, “You need a splinter in life to remind you of a misstep, so you don’t make it again. You need a tack to remind you of a greater pain than a splinter. And, when you reach that landing, don’t get comfortable there, because there’s always a higher height to reach. When you reach that, there are more corners to turn to take you yet another direction.”

The crowd roared and applauded Mr. Anderson as he came to a close.  After a musical selection form the Talladega College Choir, the members of the Class of 1963 were conferred with ‘golden diplomas’ in honor of their 50th bachelor’s degree anniversary.  As the program continued, the Class of 2013 was presented to the audience.  However, there was a very special guest on hand to witness a 2013 graduate.

He was there for the Montgomery Bus Boycott. He was present and a leader also during the Selma to Montgomery March of 1965. And although it was Mother’s Day, a proud father and Civil Rights icon enjoyed this monumental time with his family. Rev. Joseph Lowery was a guest at the 138th Commencement to witness the graduation of his daughter, Mrs. Yvonne Lowery-Kennedy. Dr. Billy C. Hawkins, President of Talladega College acknowledged Rev. Lowery to the entire audience and everyone stood to applaud him. Although he was seated in a wheelchair, the audience rose to acknowledge how Rev. Lowery stood for justice throughout his life. Yvonne received a Business Administration degree with a concentration in Organizational Management and she finished with Departmental Distinction. Rev. Lowery’s wife and other family members were present for the occasion.

In addition to the Class of 2013, Talladega College conferred four honorary doctorate degrees. The first recipient was guest speaker, Anthony Anderson. Upon receipt, he proudly hailed, “I got it Mama!” Next was a Talladegan from the Class of 1953. Although short in stature, Dr. Enid Curtis Pinkney stands tall in Miami, Florida. A retired educator and school administrator, a native Miamian and Talladega College graduate, Dr. Pinkney has labored for decades to preserve African American history in Miami-Dade County Florida. Her works have resulted in historic landmarks and recognition of her efforts with the National Conference on Historic Preservation.

Next, he’s a Hall of Famer and American Baseball legend. Together he and his wife have been champions of education for decades and have worked to create educational opportunities across America for youth to encourage them to chase their dreams. Henry “Hank” Aaron and his wife, Mrs. Billye Suber Aaron were conferred the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees. The Aarons however did not just come to receive; they came with a gift in hand. The Aarons presented a check in the amount of $104,000 from their Chasing the Dream Foundation to Talladega College.

Following the honorary degrees, Talladega College conferred 78 graduates from the Class of 2013. The valedictorian of the class was Maya Maree Dowdell of Opelika, Alabama, who received a bachelor’s degree in Social Work with Departmental Distinction. Following her Class Farewell, the 2013 graduates were inducted into the National Alumni Association by National Alumni President Gregory Austin. After the Alma Mater was sung, the benediction was given by Pastor Kent Mattox from Word Alive International Outreach Church in Oxford, Alabama. In attendance at the Commencement were also alumni, visitors, families and friends of the graduates and the Mayor of Talladega, Mayor Larry Barton. The ceremony closed out a beautiful Sunday morning that was sunny with a nice breeze on the quad of the Talladega College campus.