December 20, 2013

Fall 2013 Commencement Address

Prepared commencement speech from Dr. Copeland

GRAMBLING, La. – Thanks for the kind words.  I should be able to speak at least three (3) hours after that introduction.  Dr. Pogue, GSU administrators, faculty, students, Gramblingnites, friends of Grambling, current or past  Board Members,  ladies and gentlemen. 

It is hard for me to describe how honored I am to have been selected as the speaker for this occasion.  My wife Lolita (1978) and I thank you.  Our children Brian (1995) and Beryl (1998) and Leo thank you.   Our beautiful granddaughters Virginia (age 5) and Lea (age 3), with their future graduates t-shirts on during Homecoming, thank you. 

Congratulations to the top graduates (4).  Congratulations to Summa Cum Laude graduates!  Congratulations to the Magna Cum Laude Graduates!   Congratulations to the Cum Laude graduates.  And a big salute to the Thank You Lordy graduates!   I also send a big cheer to candidates for Graduate degrees, and I offer a special toast to those receiving the Doctor of Education Degree.  On behalf of all persons under the sound of my voice, I congratulate those persons receiving military commissions.  Thank you for your decision to serve our country.   God Speed!

It is my hope that I can say something to encourage each of you to be confident while you walk away from Grambling into the big world.  This is a special class, Grambling is a special place for special people; hence, I consider this a sacred honor and responsibility.

I know and subscribe to the speakers’ code which says:
Stand up and be seen!      Speak up and be heard!    Then sit down and be appreciated!     

I will not hold you long because I too graduated a few times.  I know what each of you did last night, or for the past few days after you were certain that your name was on the final graduation list.   Listening to a long speech is not on your list of things to do today.  I have one favor to ask of you.  PLEASE DON’T STOP LISTENING BEFORE I STOP SPEAKING!

Graduation Day at Grambling is such a special day because it gives us an opportunity to look back with appreciation and thanksgiving for the achievements of our students, faculty and administration.  More importantly, it gives us the opportunity to celebrate parents and significant others who have come to honor and celebrate you.   We know that all 504 graduates stand on the shoulders of some highly concerned, important, and excited persons.  Graduates, before I get into my address, I want each of you to stand and give a  Grambling applause to your family and friends who have demonstrated their love and support for you.   Thank you. 

After the ceremony, please give each of them   big bear hugs and kisses for all they have done.  Back in the day, President R.W.E. Jones would tell the graduated to go back home and thank everyone who made it possible for you to be here.  He would also instruct us to go back and kiss the mule.  Most of Grambling students were from rural areas and farms; hence he knew that the mule was an important part of the equation.  Most of you do not have mules; however, there is something, a tool or instrument which you should kiss, because it allowed your parents and significant others to make a living and send money.  It may be a taxi cab, school bus, log truck, curling iron, chalk board, briefcase, etc.  That is our way of saying, “just be grateful to all who helped.” Please know that you did not reach this milestone alone. 

This is a great accomplishment for you.  Don’t allow anyone to make this look small.  You are now entering into a privileged group of Americans.  The U. S. Census reports that about 34% of Americans 18 yrs. and older hold college degrees.     24.1 million hold the Associate’s degree; 43.3 million hold the Bachelor’s; 16.7 million with Master’s; 3.1 million hold professional degrees; 3.2 million with Doctoral degrees.  45.6 million had some college, with no degree.  The numbers look large, but you must remember that the total U.S. population is 314 million.   This is such a great accomplishment for you because, according to the U.S. Census Bureau, persons with a college degree will have lifetime earnings of $1 to $4 million dollars more (depending on your major) than those with only high school diplomas.  That is a $2,000 or more per month increase for a college degree.   According to the Huffington Post, while the overall unemployment rate in the United States is 7%, it is 4.5 for 4 year college graduates and 24% for those working with only a high school diploma.  Jobs that require college degrees are growing.  Others are not.   Celebrate!!!   You did good!!

Tomorrow you will step into a brand new world.  The student title will be dropped, and the foreign aid will be drastically decreased or totally discontinued.  You will be a member of the establishment,— going to work, looking for a job, finding an apartment, getting married, buying groceries, paying taxes, and assuming other grown folk duties and responsibilities.  There will be times when you will wish for the old GSU days with the sorors or the frats, the dorms, The Café, the bus Shuttle which takes you to Wal-Mart or the airport.  You will wish for just one more piece of Spivey’s chicken!  These thoughts will bring smiles on your faces and beautiful memories on your hearts, but you will quickly snap out of it and press on with your new responsibilities.  The big world awaits you! 

I wish I could promise you a world that is problem free and inviting, with no bumps or obstacles.  No worries or disappointments!  No way!  You are going into a world which is not always friendly and inviting.  In fact, sometimes it is confusing and discouraging.  You will not always be given equal or fair treatment, nor will you always receive encouragement from people you  meet.   The world will amaze and confound you.   Simply put, much of it will not make sense.  Reality is often vastly different from our version of common sense. 
You will be welcomed by a heavily armed society, which appears to be headed back to the old wild, wild west.  Almost 300 million guns are privately owned by Americans.  Nearly 10,000 persons are murdered by guns each year.  Mass shootings are common place.  Movie theatres, night clubs, schools, colleges and universities, and any place where people gather are sites of gun terror.   Who would have guessed that 20 students (ages 5-8) and 6 of their teachers at Sandy Hook Elementary School would die facing a man with an assault weapon.  Makes no sense!  Guns on our streets kill more citizens than foreign wars.   Something has gone gravely wrong when you can have an automobile accident and get shot dead while knocking on a door asking for help.  You can even get shot while doing nothing—walking from the store, coming home from school, sleeping in your bed, driving your car, and not looking like others think you should look.

The enforcement and application of rules in the society at large are  not always clear.  In fact Robin Thick would say that there are blurred lines.  You all know the song, “Hey, Hey, Hey. Hey!”   I hear you singing it.  “Blurred Lines” is a true description of the world which awaits you. 

A recent case of a blurred line, was a 16 year old Texas boy who after drinking beer stolen from Wal-Mart, went joy riding in his father’s truck with some of his buddies.   He ran over a group of persons who were helping a lady with a disable vehicle.  Four persons were killed and one was seriously injured.  The court sentenced him to 10 years of probation, no jail time in Juvenile nor adult correctional facility.  His defense was that he suffers from “AFFLUENZA,” a condition where wealthy parents let him get away with everything.  Michael Vick was sent to Leavenworth Prison in Kansas for killing  dogs.  Blurred line!   Don’t try to use AFFLUENZA as your defense!

A  U.S. congressman  arrested in Washington, D.C. while buying $250 worth of cocaine from an undercover agent,   was given 3 months of probation and no jail time; nor did he resign his elected office.  He is taking a “short break” for treatment.  How many persons have gone to prison for having one joint in their pocket or for just having drug paraphernalia?  57% of persons  in federal prison were sentenced for drug offences.  Blurred lines!!     

A  U.S. senator from Louisiana was, admittedly, guilty of patronizing a house of prostitution did not give up his seat nor go to jail.  He was re-elected, and is talking about running for Governor.  How many pimps and prostitutes are serving time in jail?  Blurred Lines!!   

It is a blurred line when The State of Louisiana talks about the value of education, while cutting Grambling’s budget by 80%.  This is barely state assisted rather than state supported.  During this time, $40 million were provided to save a chicken plant from closing.  A blurred line! 

Blurred lines and numerous social problems await you!

Inequality in the U.S. is bad and getting worst.  Homeowner rate is at the lowest level in 18 years.  More than a million public school students are homeless. Annually, there are approximately 6500   hate crimes, as reported by the FBI.  States and the Federal government spend nearly $55 billion each year on prisons for 2 million inmates in the United States.  There are 5,646 marriages each day and 2912 divorces.  There were 35,656 suicides last year and 29,714 auto accidents.    According to the Census Bureau, 49.9 million Americans do not have health insurance.  35 million adults experience food insecurity.   1 in 5 children live in poverty.   There are 104,000 children in foster care.    And on the list goes on, and on, and on!

A major portion of this address has been focused on problems and blurred lines within the society which you will enter as a college graduate.  I am not here to scare you or make you depressed about what you are about to face.     Please know   that there are a number of opportunities for you in the mist of a troubled society. You should be excited about the challenges before you.     Jackie Robinson said, (Quote) “A problem is an opportunity for you to do your best.”    

Don’t fret, because you have been prepared by Grambling State University to make a difference.  100% of your degree programs are accredited by national accrediting agencies.  You should be eager for a challenge, because you have studied under an outstanding faculty.   

As you prepare to leave, there are a few final instructions before I send you into the game.  Coach Robinson would hold the player as he gave him final instructions for the next play.  As I hold you, here are a few final suggestions for living as I send you out to face the world:

1)  Pray!  You need a higher power on your side.  You will be road kill if you plan to go through life without God on your side.  You need guidance and protection.  More than anything, you need wisdom.  Grambling gave you knowledge, ask God for wisdom.  Knowledge will help you to get a degree.  Wisdom will enable you to effectively apply that degree to your work.  It is a waste of time and money to get a degree and lose your ability to practice because you violate ethical standards of your profession.  Pray for your safety at work.  Improve your observational skills and always be aware of your surroundings.

2) - Avoid the attitude or feeling that the world owes you.  You owe the world!  “When much is given, much is expected!”  The new Pope Francis speaks eloquently of the need to have more servants in the world.    When you apply for a job, let the potential employer know that you are coming to help make the agency better.  Lose yourself in the goals and objectives of the company.    If you go to work each and every day to make the agency better, You will be surprise at the rate of your success.  It is not just about you!  Listen for Coach Robinson, who said “I’ve always worked on my head to keep my hat size normal.  I just wished that more attention had been directed toward the team and our coaches.  The record belongs to everyone.”

3) -Exercise and eat right.  Take care of your body.  This is the only body you will get, even if you live to be 100 years old. Sleep and rest are crucial to a great career.  You cannot hang out all night, every night and be productive at work the next day.   Your career deserves your undivided attention.   Most of your careers will affect the lives of others; hence, you must always be on top of your game!  Failure is not an option for you.  A missed digit in accounting, a missed diagnosis in social work, a missed reading of a chart in nursing,  are all ingredients for a disaster on your jobs

4) -Have fun!   Learn to play golf, tennis, basketball and other physically challenging activities.    Work should not become your life, it should be your job.  I have  discussions with many retired persons from numerous professions and occupations.  They do not say, “man I wish I had worked more.”  They say, “I wish I had attended more of my son’s baseball games or my daughter basketball games.”   “I missed too many holidays with the family, i.e. reunions, birthday parties, vacations, etc.   Have fun!    Laugh a lot and try not to be a "stick in the mud.”  Associate only with positive people.  Attitudes of others are contagious.   Form a small circle of trustworthy friends who can support and motivate you throughout your life’s journey.   If you want a friend, you must first be a friend.   Life should be fun!   Enjoy the ride!!

5) -Continue to learn.  Give serious thought to graduate school, now or later.  Continue to improve on your knowledge and skills by attending workshops, professional meetings, extension or evening classes, online instructional activities, and on-the-job training.  You will never know all there is to know about your field of study.  Take notes, ask questions, and learn.  Go out there with an opened mind which says that "I can learn from others."   Find a mentor if you don’t already have one.  Stay in touch with your GSU professors.  Remember, Tiger Woods has a golf teacher and coach. Always look for new and challenging assignments at work.  Travel and see what others are doing in other lands.  Some of you will work for companies with global footprints, with their multi-national operations.    Don’t be afraid of assignments to work in other countries.   You are never too old to learn.  Malcolm Forbes  said, (Quote) “when you stop learning, you are either dead or dumb.”

6) -Be honest and of good character. This will encourage others to know that they can trust you with important assignments.   Be aware of the pros and cons of the cyberspace.  Avoid sexting, sending obscene and hateful messages over the Internet.   Work to be a person of your word.   Pay your students loans and bills.  Build and monitor your credit score.   Follow-thru and make a habit of being on time for work and other engagements.    It is better to say “no” than to make promises you can’t keep. Dress out and represent your school as often as you can while doing good.  Black and gold just looks good on you as you run thru airports, drive down the highway, walk thru the mall, or board cruise ships.  Represent!   If you just happen to get into trouble, please don’t wear GSU paraphernalia.  Grambling should not be on your mug-shot, on the news or the Post Office bulletin board.  You carry the reputation of your school and my school with you at all times.  Protect it!

7) -Set goals.  Both short term and Long-term goals are crucial to success.  You must be able to see yourselves in successful positions in society.  Dream big!  Work hard to catch those dreams. The sky is the limit for a GSU graduate!   Dream about space travel, cancer research, ways to protect children from violence.  Dream of recording a gold record album and owning your own business. Dream of being Mayor of your hometown, Governor of your state, and even President of the Country.     When you see yourself as a success, nothing can stop you.

8) -Give back and find a cause and someone to aid (help) in life.  Be quick to give to worthy causes, i.e. Free clinics, domestic violence prevention projects,  homeless,  meals for the needy, Boys or Girls Scouts, nursing homes,  little league baseball, reading programs, etc.  Seek out a younger person to mentor.  As a college graduate, you are in an elite group. Graduating from college is a major accomplishment.   Share the secrets with others and convince them that they too can accomplish their goals.  You have a blessing; now go out and be a blessing to someone else.  If you can’t save the world, work to save one person at a time.  Give of your talents, time and money.     Grambling State University needs your financial assistance.  Don’t wait until you become a billionaire or millionaire to support your School.  Hundred Aires and thousand Aires can also give.  If you are a Louisiana resident, get a Grambling State license plate for your cars.  A portion of your license renewal fees come back to GSU.  Leave something for those students who will follow you.   

9) -Make sound, prayerful decisions, and abstain from risky behavior, i.e., drag racing, illicit drug use, and abuse of alcohol.  Think about consequences before you act.   Seek out only those persons who can be positive forces in your life.  Protect and conserve your finances.  Don’t be wasteful and impulsive in you spending habits.  Invest in your retirement immediately upon employment.  Please!  Please!  Please!  Get health insurance.  Illnesses and accidents happen to young people without warnings.  Don’t let anyone talk you out of getting health insurance, OBAMACARE or whatever.    Politicians and others who are talking against insurance, have insurance for themselves and their families.  Make sound and informed decisions.  Watch the news.  Study the issues and always read the fine print.   Work to improve your IQ for financial literacy.  Understand and monitor your credit score.  Save a portion of what you earn, “pay yourself.”           Save and wisely protect your hard earned money.  

10) -Don’t make excuses. "Just bring in the ship!"  Your working conditions will not always be perfect; however, you must strive to be perfect in your work.  There will be times in your lives when Alcorn with fly to Indiana and you will ride the bus.  Kick their braves anyway!   Eddie Robinson had the worst facilities in the country!!!   He just worked hard each day and produced over 200 professional players and three NFL Hall of famers.  Listen to him speaking, (Quote) “We always had less, but we never could do less for Grambling students.” Coach Hobdy had a cracker box for a gym.  He just worked hard each day and produced many professional basketball players and one NBA Hall of Famer.  I heard that “People don’t want to hear about the storms you faced, they just want to know one thing, “did you bring in the ship?”  Keep your focus and bring in your ship!

The world might be confuse and complicated; however, I am not discouraged because a new cadre of 504 Grambling graduates from the Fall Class of 2013, are coming to the rescue.  385 with Bachelor’s degrees and 119 with graduate degrees are coming to the rescue.   New GSU graduate from 28 states and 10 foreign countries are coming to the rescue.  They are coming from places called Grambling, Houma, St. Lucia, Carson, Ruston, Monroe, Hodge, Metarie, Antigua, Keithville, Simsboro, Homer, Bernice, Shreveport, Jonesboro,  Killeen, Arlington, Baton Rouge, Delhi, Lawrenceville, Jonesville, Bastrop, Dallas, Alexandria, Irving, Slidell, San Diego, Lake Providence, Ferriday, Natchitoches, Castor, Houston, Detroit, Minden, Los Angeles, West Monroe, Mansfield, Fayetteville, Plano, Vicksburg, Live Oak, San Antonio, Opelousas, Harvey, Dominica,  Pflugerville, Cameroon, Tallulah, Cedar Hill, Chicago, West Bloomfield, Omaha, Fort Lauderdale, Uganda, Moreauville, White Castle, Nepal, Ringgold, Kansas City, Lake Arthur, Clackamas, Desoto, Tacoma, St. Joseph, Pembroke Pines, Bridgeport, Saline, Dayton, Canton, Indianapolis, Meridian, Missouri City, Grand Prairie, Columbus, Saudi Arabia, Duncanville, Ozark, Angie, Cambodia, Independence, Brooklyn, Merrillville,   Dubberly,  Keatchie,  Riviera Beach, Grandview, Smyrna, Brandywine, Kansas City, Terrell, Hawthorne, Oakland,  Lake Charles,  Frisco, Compton, Darrow, Miami, Franklin, Medina, Glenmora, Belle Rose, Euless, Lafayette, Lewisville, Oldsmar, Garland, Arcadia, Richmond, Arlington,   Walls,             Ville Platte, Pomona, New Orleans, Oklahoma City, Holly Springs, Lithonia, Sibley, Albuquerque, Baker, Pineville, Denham Springs, Carrollton,  Monroe, Detroit, Springhill,  Matteson, Plain Dealing, Jackson, Palmdale, Minden, Stockton, Greenwood, Bellwood, Louisville, Gypsum, Winston-Salem, Danville,  Palmdale,  Winnfield, Long Beach, Benton Harbor, Waldorf, Las Vegas, Lauderdale Lakes, Pittsburg, Mandeville, Ecorse, Rayville, Columbus, Calhoun,  St. Martinville, Bridgeport,  Florida City, Riverdale, Tacoma,  White Castle, Belzoni, Sacramento,   Thibodeaux, Houston, Duarte, Jeanerette, West Bloomfield, Leesville, Austell, Raceland,  Jacksonville, Tamarac, Sterlington,  Dubach, El Dorado, Bossier City, Van Nuys,

They are ready to turn the world upside down!  

Graduates, go out there and do your best work!  You have been trained by a great faculty!  You have been given a great game plan!  You have great home training!  The rest is up to you!  Go out there and make all of us proud!!!


God bless you and keep you is my prayer.  May you enjoy success with every step you take as a proud GSU graduate! !!!!!!!!  God Bless Grambling!!!  God bless the United States of America.

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