NCCU graduate and law students celebrate commencement
May. 09, 2014 @ 07:51 PM

John Ruffin urged graduate students at N.C. Central University to be ready for obstacles and not to fear risks in the world that waits for them.

“Seize these challenges as opportunities,” he said. “Apply what you’ve learned here.”

Don’t be satisfied to gripe about injustice, he said.

“There’s a litany of things that we know are not right in this nation and around the world,” he said. “It is not enough to complain. You must become a catalyst of change.”

Ruffin, a former NCCU faculty member and retired director of the National Institute on Minority Health and Health Disparities for the National Institutes of Health, spoke during Friday’s commencement exercises in McDougald-McLendon Gymnasium.

He told the 371 graduate and law students to be flexible and be ready to take risks.

“Weigh your options,” he said. “Think about the risk of not taking risks.”

He spoke about much work remaining to educate the ignorant about racism and urged graduates to become leaders who can take what they’ve learned at NCCU and make the world a better, wiser place.

“Success lies in remembering your roots and giving back,” he said.

Ronald Williams II, president of the university’s Student Bar Association, told his fellow students that “today we stand as an example of those who were forged by fire.”

“Put the state on notice that 136 of some of the brightest, well-trained and soon-to-be licensed attorneys are entering our profession,” he said.

Chancellor Debra Saunders-White told the students that the viability of NCCU depends on them. Recently, Saunders-White announced the reduction of 55 positions from the university in anticipation of state budget cuts.

“Tell your story with passion and let others understand the unique experiences that are offered here,” she said.” “We expect you to spread your wings and not just to flap. We expect you to soar. Let’s get on with it.”

One recipient of a master’s degree from the School of Education received the honor posthumously.

Michael E. Butts died April 16 after battling cancer while pursuing a degree in mental health counseling and helping raise four children. He was 34.

His widow, Syreeta, wore Michael’s graduate hood and walked the platform on his behalf, to a standing ovation from the crowd.

“His spirit was remarkable and his determination, unstoppable,” Saunders-White said. “He lived with incredible grace and poise.”

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