(JACKSON, Miss.) — Jackson State University held its 2021 undergraduate commencement ceremony for the first time in over a year due to the coronavirus pandemic. As the university hosted an in-person service similar to those in past years, a more cautious approach was taken due to the still prevalent COVID-19 virus. All three planned ceremonies were modified to meet CDC guidelines such as social distancing and masks for all attendees.
Mississippi U.S. Rep. Bennie Thompson served as the keynote speaker for the long-anticipated event. Serving his 13th term in the U.S. House of Representatives, he represents Mississippi’s Second Congressional District, where he has spent his entire life fighting to improve the lives of all people. Thompson is the longest-serving African-American elected official in the Mississippi and the lone Democrat in the Mississippi Congressional Delegation.
Beginning his speech, he reiterated that JSU is an institution “well-known for its academic excellence, the Sonic Boom of the South and being nationally recognized for athletics.”
After praising the graduates for their hard work and commitment, Thompson said, “You have reached a momentous milestone, but this is not the end of your journey. The importance of education to young people is an investment, not only in your future, but the future of our community. These investments directly correlate with the dividends of tomorrow.”
The congressman warned the new alums that challenges are ahead and offered sound advice for when those obstacles arise.
“Use your faith in God and the knowledge you’ve gained to create a path to success,” he said. “Education is one of the most transformative things that will positively affect your life, the lives of your family and those in your community.”
He furthered advised that the world as we know it for African-Americans is “dangerous.” The U.S. congressman referenced the recent killings of Breonna Taylor, Daunte Wright, Stephon Clark and others who have died at the hands of law enforcement.
Continuing to make his case, he said, “They were all around your age, so please be careful. There is still a long way to go before we are all treated equally.”
Thompson then transitioned his speech to reassure the graduates that their HBCU degrees hold equal weight to their “Eagle, Rebel and Bulldog” peers.
Before concluding, he recognized President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris’ efforts to move America in the right direction. He reassured the graduates that in collaboration with members of congress, they are working diligently to push for student loan forgiveness up to $10,000 immediately. He also mentioned that Biden is pushing to forgive up to $50,000 in federal student loan debt through executive action.
“Cancelling student loan debt could immensely help the economy and reduce the wealth gap between Black and white Americans receiving an education and becoming productive members of society.”
He concluded by saying, “You’ve been given the gift of education, which is the foundation of our society. Economically, democratically and civically — it is the process by which we evolve as a nation. Keep the faith.”