SBA administrator encourages Grambling State graduates to appreciate their educational journey, commit to making alma mater proud

Commencement speaker and SBA Administrator Edward “Ted” James

Grambling, LA – May 13, 2022 – Grambling State University held its 2022 Spring Commencement Exercises in two ceremonies Thursday at the Fredrick C. Hobdy Assembly Center, conferring 416 degrees ranging from doctoral to the undergraduate level.

Former Louisiana State Rep. Edward “Ted” James, who was appointed by President Joe Biden to serve as the U.S. Small Business Administration’s Regional Administrator for Region 6 South Central Region in December of 2021, served as keynote speaker for both ceremonies.

The Southern University graduate was also presented with an honorary doctorate from GSU.

During his speeches, James encouraged the new graduates to branch out into the real world while remembering the benefits they enjoyed as students at Grambling State.

“I want to remind you today that you are the beneficiary of shade from a tree that you did not plant,” James said. “I know that and recognize that, and when I was in the legislature, I would go there every day recognizing I was enjoying the shade of a tree that I did not plant. It is not only important, it is your duty to not only protect that shade you enjoy, but to protect that tree to make sure that generation after generation after generation can come to Grambling State University and enjoy all of the fruits that you have enjoyed.”

“Let’s forget about all of the awards, let’s forget about all of the honors,” James continued. “We’re going to talk about some real-life things we all have to endure, because those are the things that define your life. Not the celebrations, not everybody clapping and cheering for you today. It’s those moments that you were the only one pushing yourselves. The times you were the only ones saying, ‘I can do this.’ ”

To protect that shade granted by GSU, James told the graduates, “You’re about to get yours,” telling them that while they might not even realize it, that was how the graduating students felt as they entered the Hobdy Assembly Center.

“You go and get yours,” James said. “You see something you want, you put your eyes on it, and then you go and get it. So, graduates, you too are about to get yours. I told you that this is not a simple graduation, this is a recognition of the shade that you have enjoyed and your commitment to continue seeing that the tree remains strong. At a historic institution like Grambling, I’m sure there’s some you had to dig deep for, something that motivated you. And for you, that’s the love for ‘Dear Old Grambling.’ And I know each and every one of you sitting here have had those moments.”

James went on to talk about entering Southern University with a scholarship — one that he didn’t graduate with. But through perseverance and realizing he had to be committed to protecting the shade he enjoyed, he found success, created with his own hard work.
Later he explained the difference between school and life.

“In school, you take lesson after lesson to prepare for a test,” James said. “In life, you get tested first, and then there’s a lesson to relearn. And unlike school, some of life’s tests are designed for you to fail. Basketball is like school; you’re measured by how many points you score. But life is about the rebounds. Life is about how you respond when it calls you out. Life is about how you rebound, not about how you’re scoring. And when you exit these doors, life isn’t going to care about the great education you got here. But there are tools you have developed here that can equip you for whatever life throws at you.”
James then told the graduates they’re not receiving a degree as much as they are receiving an invitation.

“You’re invited — you’re about to be chosen for a draft,” James said. “Not the NFL Draft or the NBA Draft, it’s a draft that the elders remember. You are about to be drafted into a battle, and unlike most invitations, you do not have the ability to say no. You have the ability to pick the fight, but you do not have the ability to say ‘I am not going to fight.’ Because the world that you are entering needs soldiers — Grambling soldiers. They need people equipped to handle all of the issues in the world. Right now we have so many different issues that are impacting us — impacting you, impacting this institution. So when you walk across this stage and receive your invitation to that battle, spend time thinking about which one you are going to fight.”

Concluding his speech, James circled back to his protecting the tree while traveling down the road of life metaphor.

“You have to carry the mantle – you have to protect the tree,” James said. “I would be lying to you if I said that all of this is going to be easy. The road to success is not straight. On the road you will encounter some curves called failure, some setbacks called confusion … but I assure you, you will make it down that road, because you are traveling with a spare called determination, an engine called perseverance, insurance called faith, and a driver called Grambling.”

Valedictorian Sameka Benjamin

Samika Benjamin of Houston via Dominica, was GSU’s spring valedictorian after graduating with a 3.98 GPA, picking up her Bachelor of Science degree in criminal justice.

“This was not an easy journey, but we did it,” Benjamin said while giving her valedictory remarks. “The challenges may have been hard, but we persevered. Looking out at all of you, I am filled with immense pride. As I stand here before you today, looking back on my first semester at Grambling State University, I can honestly say that my education in my three years here made me a better and stronger individual. I may have experienced things differently from many of you because I am an international student. Because of cultural differences, and being homesick, I often felt overwhelmed. Despite that, I have no regrets regarding my decision to attend Grambling State University.
“It is a campus that embraces diversity and one where everybody is somebody.”

Concluding her remarks, Benjamin talked of a mantra she said she lives by taken from Philippians 4:13.

“I can do all things through Christ which strengtheneth me,” she said. “During this next phase of your life, you may be facing a lot of disappointment and discouragement, but I urge you fellow graduates, do not give up. Use this time as a guide to perfect your future instead of as a stumbling block. It is through these trials that we discover our true strength. Remember, what lies behind us and what lies before us doesn’t matter as much as what lies within us.”