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Cicely Tyson Challenges Newest Morehouse Men to Be Steadfast Leaders


In the voice of one of her most stirring characters, Miss Jane Pittman, actress Cicely Tyson challenged the class of 2009 during Sunday’s Commencement ceremony to remain steadfast leaders as they leave Morehouse and head into a difficult world.

“I would say, you are the one – each one of you,” Tyson said. “But I would ask you to remember that life ain’t going to be no crystal stair…But all the time, you’ll be climbing, reaching landings, turning corners and sometimes going in the dark where there ain’t no light. So I’m going to ask you not to turn back.”

On a chilly and overcast day in front of 10,000 family and friends, 440 new Morehouse Men marched from the Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel to the Century Campus as alumni formed a wall around them, cheering them on.

Parents, including Tammy Harris, shouted, smiled and cried as each young man crossed the stage.

“To have a son finish college and me being a single parent of four, I’m excited and overwhelmed,” said Harris, whose son Joshua was one of two valedictorians. The other was Anthony Roberts.

Both valedictory addresses were met with standing ovations.

“What we have acquired here at Morehouse gives us the opportunity to lift someone from the teeth of despair to the voice of hope and transfer dark and desolate valleys into sun-lit paths of inner peace,” Harris said. “Thus we have no choice but to succeed because at the very moment of commitment, the entire universe conspires for our success.”

Roberts said, “Our work is finished here and the mandate is clear: we must go forth beyond this place and find our new work and our new purpose. Class of 2009, now is our time to leave our mark on the world.”

Tyson, scholar Henry Louis Gates Jr. and legendary baseball player Hank Aaron each received the honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

“This is a day I will never truly forget,” Gates said. “I have always wanted to be a Morehouse man.”

President Robert M. Franklin Jr. ’75 reminded the class of 2009 of its two-word mantra, “no excuses,” that they chanted in King Chapel days after the inauguration of the nation’s first African American president, Barack Obama.

“Now it is up to you. The world is watching you, gentlemen,” Franklin said. “No excuses for intellectual underachievement; no excuses for unethical behavior. You have no excuses for not practicing the art of non-violence that Dr. King taught us. And we will accept no excuses.”

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