Jackson State alum and Under Secretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources empowers graduates to boldly carve out their future success

(JACKSON, Miss.) — Proud family, tearful friends, and optimistic graduates gathered in sacred celebration at the Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium for Jackson State University’s Spring 2022 Undergraduate Commencement this morning, April 30.

Thomas K. Hudson, J.D., president, honored the 641 undergraduate students who received their diplomas, imploring them to bask in this moment and be reflective of all they have endured. 

“Today is all about you. I encourage you to enjoy this milestone you’ve achieved, for it is a tremendous accomplishment in your life and a major step in continuing or starting your career,” said Hudson. 

Tyra McCormick, outgoing SGA President, addressed her peers with an anecdotal and reflective speech. She told her classmates, “I can attest that college let me have the most affordable fun-filled years I ever had…the challenge is to make the next four to 10 years the actual best years of our lives,” she said.  

Serving as Keynote was Homer Wilkes, Ph.D., undersecretary of Agriculture for Natural Resources and the Environment, nominated to the role by President Joe Biden. 

Wilkes also served as the director of the Gulf of Mexico Ecosystem Restoration Team. He was responsible for overseeing the rebuilding of the Ecosystem of the Gulf of Mexico after the BP Oil Spill of 2010. He has also served as the acting associate chief of the USDA/Natural Resources Conservation Services in Washington, D.C.

A proud alum of JSU, Wilkes received his bachelor’s degree, master of business administration, and Ph.D. in urban higher education from the HBCU. 

“I am delighted to be back here in Jackson, Mississippi. More importantly, I am humbled and honored to be able to come back to Jackson State University. Thee I love,” said Wilkes, pumping his fist. 

Wilkes centered his address on the fundamental principles of life that guided him through his JSU tenure and into his current position as Under Secretary. 

Emphasizing the importance of gaining a quality education and utilizing that knowledge to impact your community, Wilkes said, “JSU not only gives you a good education but an education that does good.” 

Wilkes reflected on his humble beginnings growing up in rural Mississippi, instilling in him the principle of being a “good steward of the land.” Urging the graduates always to strive to enter a place with a vision, he encouraged persistence in leaving “that land” in a better place than when they discovered it. 

He then gave the graduating class their first call to action. The JSU alum challenged the graduates to take what they’ve gained at JSU and move forward throughout the world boldly, reaching and teaching in every space and life they encounter. 

Wilkes invoked the impressionable lyrics of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” urging the soon to be graduates to honor “the faith that the dark past has taught us” and reflect on “the hope that the present has brought us” as they embark into unknown territory throughout life, regardless of circumstances that will arise.

In closing, Wilkes imparted several life lessons to the graduating class, emphasizing the necessity of knowing our history. 

“Reflect on your history, the history of our ancestors who strived to achieve moral justice, peace, and equality for all…teach children their great heritage, teach children about Medgar Evers and Fannie Lou Hammer, and all the ancestors who’ve given their lives in order to make this world a better place,” he said. 

The Under Secretary then left the class with three salient points to carry throughout their lifelong journey of personal, professional, and spiritual development:

No. 1: Self Awareness – always strive to know thyself, both internal and external. 

No. 2: Create a path and define their purpose. 

No. 3: Stay in touch with one’s spirituality. To be rooted in one’s faith shall be what sustains them throughout life. As the world presents unexpected shifts and turns, they must remain intentional about the quality of their mental and physical health.

Once the time came to walk across the stage, graduates smiled, some danced, and others saluted their Greek organizations as they received their diplomas, closing one chapter of their lives.  

“My overall JSU experience has been nothing short of amazing. I have gotten everything I asked for and then some,” said Halle Coleman, the 82nd Miss Jackson State University. “A big staple in my JSU experience has been the culture – the warm family atmosphere has truly made me feel at home.”  

Ahead of the commencement ceremony, Coleman jump-started her career as a multimedia professional by accepting a public relations specialist position for the Jackson-based and minority-owned marketing agency, Fahrenheit Creative Group. 

“I have gained tangible and intangible skills from the campus that will help me in my new role. My department, the Blue and White Flash [student newspaper], and my internship with University Communications prepared me for writing, editing and storytelling,” said Coleman. “I am grateful to have gotten that hands-on experience from JSU prior to entering the workforce.