RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Saint Augustine’s University held an in-person commencement ceremony for the class of 2020 and 2021 Saturday.
The socially-distanced ceremony was held outside at the George Williams Athletic Complex.
It’s a day graduates like Janazjia Smith never thought would happen.
“I just took the graduation online for what it was and thought you know, at least I have my degree,” said Smith, a criminal justice major who technically graduated in 2020. “But it was amazing just to come in person and walk across the stage and have my fellow graduates as well walk with me.”
In total, about 175 graduates from both classes walked across the stage to get their diplomas on Saturday. Family and friends savored the moment and watched from the bleachers. People were prepared to wear masks and socially distanced during the ceremony.
“It feels good to work hard for four years to finally accomplish a goal, working day and night to see this,” said Bush, a sociology major who hopes to one day open his own group home.
“It’s just such a big blessing to be around all of your brothers and sisters, I actually love this place,” said Desmond Quinerly, who plans to attend graduate school this fall.
Prominent Civil Rights Attorney Benjamin Crump was also on stage.
“I’m here at the great Saint Augustine’s in North Carolina and when I look out at the audience, I see all things are possible because you are possible, this day was possible,” Crump said. “Your ancestors who were in the cotton fields knew that this day was possible, so we salute you.”
The university awarded him an honorary doctorate degree for his work representing the families of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown.
“You all, tweeted, you all posted, you all marched, you all continued to fight in the court of public opinion, for not only George Floyd, not only for Breonna Taylor, but now you’re fighting for Andrew Brown in Elizabeth City, North Carolina to have those videos released,” said Crump.
He added, “We always have to find a way to transform our pain into purpose, and that we have to remember what Frederick Douglas said — without struggle, there could be no progress. And so I look at you all, you all represent the best that we have as a people to offer the future, the very best.”
Racial injustices, resilience and perseverance were some of the themes from the speakers, including Marchell Adams-David, manager for the city of Raleigh.
“You, the class of 2020 and 2021, dug in deep and did what we always do, we found a way to survive by being resilient,” Adams-David said.
Several graduates told CBS 17 they either have jobs or interviews already lined up. Many others said they plan on attending graduate school this fall.