Dr. Walter M. Kimbrough delivered the keynote address to more than 130 graduates during Claflin University's 2022 Fall Commencement Convocation on Friday, December 9, at 10 a.m. in the Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Wellness Complex. Kimbrough serves as the interim executive director of the Black Men's Research Institute at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Ga.
"Own your role because Kanye won't help you, and Deion can't save you," said Kimbrough in his opening remarks. Kimbrough's reference was aimed at rapper Kanye West and former Jackson State University Football Coach Deion Sanders. West's behavior, controversial comments on political talk shows, and Sanders's decision to leave JSU after three years to become the head football coach at the University of Colorado have dominated the news cycle for the past few weeks.
Kimbrough cited "The Role of Claflin College in Negro Life in South Carolina," an article written by E.H. Fitchett.The articleoutlined Claflin's role after its inception in 1869, which followed the end of the Civil War and the end of slavery.The article was first published in 1943 by The Journal of Negro Education (JNE). Fitchett, aformer vice president of academic affairs at Claflin, was a distinguished educator and sociologist.
"Claflin's role was to educate newly freed people who needed an education and produce college graduates at a pivotal time in history," said Kimbrough. "And today, that is still Claflin's role. There is still a great role for you to play today. Do you know your role? I want you to know your role and to own it."
A native of Atlanta, Kimbrough was his high school salutatorian and student body president in 1985. He earned degrees from the University of Georgia, Miami University in Ohio, and a doctorate in higher education from Georgia State University. He has enjoyed a fulfilling career in student affairs, serving at Emory University, Georgia State University, Old Dominion University, and Albany State University. In October of 2004, at the age of 37, he was named the 12th president of Philander Smith College. In 2012 he became the seventh president of Dillard University in New Orleans, Louisiana, and served for ten years.
Kimbrough has been recognized for his research and writings on HBCUs and African American men in college. He also has been noted for his active use of social media. He was cited byEducation Diveas one of 10 college presidents on Twitter who are doing it right (@HipHopPrez), and in 2015 he was named byThe Best Schools.orgas one of the 20 most interesting college presidents. In 2020College Cliffsnamed him as one of the 50 Top U.S. College And University Presidents.
"You need to block out the noise and commit to excellence," Kimbrough said. "Some of you spend too much time on social media posting and scrolling. Far too many of us use social media to project a false image of who we are. Stop wasting time with Kanye. He can't help himself. He is not going to help you. So, focus on what you need to be committed to excellence."
Kimbrough shifted his topic to Deion Sanders and how some Jackson State fans now want to crucify "Prime Time" after he was named the new head football coach at the University of Colorado. "Some people are talking about how he let JSU and all HBCUs down by going to Colorado," Kimbrough said.
"They forgot all he did for the school and the football program. Deion is a unique figure. He was a two-sport superstar athlete. He can do things many of us can't do. But your role is to use what you have to advance Claflin University. Tell the Claflin story. If you want to be an influencer, what keeps you from sharing the great news about Claflin on social media?"
Kimbrough told the graduates they should promote everything good at Claflin – such as achievements by their classmates or if their fraternity, sorority, or church offers scholarships. He ended his presentation by reminding the graduates of the importance of providing financial support to their Alma Mater.
"Claflin is recognized for having the highest alumni giving rate," Kimbrough said. "Your job is to continue that legacy. It does not mean you have to give a lot of money. Just get in the habit of giving something every year. Your role is to honor those that came before you. Focus on being great, then use your network and resources to pave the way for those behind you. Your job is simple - know your role and own it. Congratulations!"
Claflin President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack told the Fall Class of 2022 that they had "put in the hard work," and their degrees "were a tangible symbol of the increased knowledge and skills they now possess as Claflin graduates."
"Your degree can be the key to a rewarding future," Warmack said. "This key can open up many doors. To highly profitable professional careers, a higher standard of living, and greater recognition in your communities. However, what happens after you open those doors, is up to you."
Warmack acknowledged three outstanding scholars who had distinctively different journeys toward earning their Claflin degrees. Two coincidentally share the same first name - but with different spellings. All three had compelling stories that reflected their resilience and commitment to achieving academic success.
"The word I want to leave with you today is Faith.Anything is possible when you have faith," said Warmack before recognizing FaithJohnsonand Faithe Stallings. Both students withstood unique challenges before earning their Claflin degrees.
Faith Johnson, a senior from Ladson, S.C., enrolled in Claflin in June 2018. She suffered two strokes in August 2018 that impaired her speech and vision. When her health improved, she resumed classes online at Claflin in 2019 while also undergoing physical and speech therapy.
She returned to campus to attend classes in August 2020. Johnson graduated with a 3.25 GPA and a bachelor's degree in African American Studies. Her immediate goal is to work at the International African American Museum that will open next year in Charleston. Ultimately, she wants to work at the National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, D.C.
Faithe Stallings, a senior from Columbia, S.C., was placed in foster care when she was 14. She managed above-average grades in high school and was invited to Duke University's Talent Identification Program (TIP) Program for outstanding middle and high school students. However, she declined, and after graduating from high school, she enrolled at Claflin University.
Stallings's "Transformation and Elevation" at Claflin continued when she was accepted into the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College after her sophomore year. Stallings graduated Magna Cum Laude with a 3.83 GPA and a bachelor's degree in studio art. She is also a member of Delta Sigma Theta Sorority, Inc.
Shone Nairn Jr., a mathematics major from Nassau, Bahamas, enrolled at Claflin in 2019. He arrived with nearly a year's worth of college credit based on his success in Advanced Placement (AP) courses, which enabled him to graduate in 3 ½ years.
"Shone was my first official recruit at Claflin," said Warmack. "I met with him and his parents during a trip to Nassau. I asked them to trust me and told them he would be successful. They did, and he became part of our Claflin Magic."
Nairn's 3.9 GPA was the highest in the Fall Class of 2022, which earned him class valedictorian honors. Nairn was a finalist for a 2022 Rhodes Scholarship, a first in Claflin's 153-year history. He represented Claflin University and the Bahamas when he appeared before the Commonwealth Caribbean Rhodes Scholarship Selection Committee in November 2021 to interview for the prestigious award. He was also a member of the Alice Carson Tisdale Honors College.
Nairn plans to pursue a Master of Science degree in Energy. He aspires to become an energy consultant for the Bahamian government to help create a "more sustainable environment" in the Bahamas and globally.
"You are the Claflin Magic," Warmack told the graduates. "I am charging each of our graduates today to remember your days at Claflin with fondness and to do your best to show what it means to have the Claflin Confidence."