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Baltimore's Sojourner-Douglass College students weather the storm

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Sojourner-Douglass College (S-DC) is a private institution with an afrocentric focus that caters to the educational needs of adults in the community. Established in 1972, as the Homestead-Montebello Center of Antioch College, Sojourner-Douglass College has now been inbusiness for 42 years. Through the years, the college has expanded to have six off-site campuses in Nassau (Bahamas), Annapolis, Cambridge, Salisbury, Prince Georges County and Owings Mills. Sojourner-Douglass is named after two African-American pioneers, Sojourner Truth and Frederick Douglass.

Sunday, June 29, 2014 at Baltimore's Joseph Meyerhoff Symphony Hall marked a very special day in the lives of 191 Sojourner-Douglass students as they graduated from higher education, going forth to serve. The youngest graduate in the class is 22, according to President Charles Simmons, and the oldest is 72. Of the 191 degrees conferred, eighteen were at the Masters' Level. This is one of the largest classes to graduate with 86% of the class being female and 34% of the class graduated with honors. The largest major in the class was in the area of Nursing.

The theme for the Class of 2014 was "We Came Through the Storm".The chief marshal and moderator was Leroy Young. After the processional, Young called the audience to order. Dr. Marian G. Stanton, Provost and Vice President of Academic Affairs, welcomed all who were in attendance. She spoke briefly about how the members of the class had come through the storm, but had become better equipped to weather the storm and create safe havens so they would not have to walk alone.

Faculty member Dr. Teresa Cooper offered a rousing invocation in which she spoke of the blessings and looking toward the future. Faculty member Eartha S. Lamkin led the audience in the National Anthem and the Negro National Anthem.

Valedictorian, Lakisha D. Livingston delivered the farewell address. She spoke next of the support she received from her professors as well as the resources provided by S-DC. She spoke to the families and well-wishers about perseverance and rising above obstacles. she said they were all children of God destined for greatness against all odds. She thanked her mother and family who had supported her as she studied, worked a full-time job and raised 2 daughters. She said it was important to rise above negative stigmas to become a productive and independent member of society. Livingston quoted Jeremiah 29:13 which states, "For I know the thoughts that I think toward you, saith the LORD, thoughts of peace , and not of evil, to give you an expected end. Then shall ye call."

The speaker for the commencement event was Shirley Sherrod, who spoke of completing one accomplishment and moving to another. She said when storms are raging, hang in there. She spoke of the storms in her life such as attending a segregated school with no indoor plumbing or hot lunches and having to pick cotton. Sherrod even spoke of not seeing the justice for the white man who had killed her father. These were the catalysts in her life which compelled her to move away from the farm life. Sherrod felt she needed to do something and began to devote her life to change. She told the graduates, "When the storm is raging, find something stable and weather the storm". Sherrod continued to speak about her life as she became active with the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC). She went on to tell the audience that you will face storms in life which will help you to grow. She also said you will never be able to predict what will happen, but stand strong and be like the eagle. "Get up, Show up and Don't give up."

Next, Sherrod spoke about the stormy area of her life when a video was intentionally taken out of context and designed to destroy her. She recited Psalms 27 to the audience and reminded them that they are standing on the shoulders of ancestors and as she stated, "We are our brothers' keepers".

President Simmons provided a response and remarks in which he spoke of the validity in the S-DC mission, knowing that education strengthens individuals and communities. He mentioned there are enemies of the community, voting rights, leaders and Black colleges, but we would overcome. He encouraged the graduates to continue to improve the individual in order to improve the community and ultimately, the world. He spoke with pride about S-DC advancing national growth and gave thanks to the community and faculty. Dr. Simmons spoke of specific adult students' situations and the trials they had undergone as they persevered in their quest to pursue their degrees.

Dr. Simmons next thanked Sherrod and conferred upon her the Doctor of Humane Letters, which is presented to persons whose lives and achievements are in alignmnent with the mission and purpose of S-DC.

Students were then presented with their various degrees in the areas of Applied Social Sciences, Administration, Human Growth and Development, Human Services, Political Campaign Management, Social Work, Biotechnology and Nursing.

After the conferring of the degrees, Dr. Cooper gave the benediction and the class, faculty and honored guests were led in a recessional into the lobby area where a reception was held in honor of the occasion.

Michelle A. Williams, who graduated Magna Cum Laude with her degree in Human Growth and Development, said her experience at the college was just wonderful. She just beamed as she mentioned how great her years at S-DC had been.

Sojourner-Douglass College is looking to expand as it continues to educate and impact people, communities, cities, states and the world. The school's website is www.sdc.edu.

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