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Chester County Press

Former mayor DeBaptiste honored at Lincoln University graduation

05/17/2022 01:22PM ● By Steven Hoffman

Lincoln University bestowed an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters on funeral home founder, former West Chester Mayor and lifelong community activist Clifford DeBaptiste at the university’s 163rd commencement on Sunday.

DeBaptiste, 97, is well-known in Chester County, beyond his home town of West Chester. He founded Milestone Event LLC and has earned more than 500 awards as an elected official and business leader. Additionally, he received a previous honorary doctorate from West Chester University and a master of arts degree in human services from Lincoln University.

His daughter, Lillian DeBaptiste Lambert is the current mayor of the borough.

DeBaptiste was introduced by department of counseling and human services chair James Wadley. He said of DeBaptiste, “Dr. Baptiste has been guided by the belief that there are more good people in this country than otherwise. This confidence has sustained his efforts to bring unity and a spirit of friendliness to the communities he serves.”

More than 450 graduates received undergraduate and graduate level diplomas at the commencement ceremony on the green in the nation’s oldest, degree-awarding historically black university. The campus is located along Baltimore Pike in Lower Oxford Township.

University president Brenda Allen greeted the pending graduates with congratulations for making it through a college experience that was altered greatly by the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“In all your four, five, six or even seven years here, you have met all the requirements for graduation. It has not been easy for any of us. … facing uncharted territory,” she said.

She took her opportunity at the podium to recognize several graduates who had overcome especially difficult odds to achieve their diplomas.

The commencement speaker was educator, scholar and author Tricia Rose. She was raised in Harlem and received her bachelor of arts degree in sociology from Yale University and her Ph.D from Brown University. Rose is a scholar of and speaker on behalf of Black culture, popular music, social issues, gender and sexuality. She has been featured on PBS, MSNBC, CNN, NPR and other national and local media outlets.

She described the current national culture as one that gives credit to what people achieve individually. She countered this notion and said, “None of us makes it alone.”

She urged her audience to reflect on who enabled then to them to make it to where they are today—roommates, professors and college employees.

She also talked at length about the “level playing field” of race in America. “It is fictitious that the playing field has been levelled for the poor and black,” she said.

She cited statistics that show three times as many blacks as whites died from COVID-19 because of things like less access to healthcare, less insurance and local hospitals closing.

Rose added that some people are so blinded to the uneven playing field that they are like fish who don’t know there is air because they have spent all their lives in water.

Lincoln University chairman of the board of trustees Gerald Bruce, who graduated from the school in 1978, urged the graduates to “learn, liberate and lead.” 

“If you learn, you are liberated and you are free to do anything,” he said. You learn much more than what was required to learn your degree here today. ….  You become liberated when your mind is free.   There is a reason our predecessors did not want us to learn because they know you are free when your mind is free,” he said.

The Lincoln Class class of 1972 was referred to at the ceremony as the “Emeritus 50-year Class,” and they showed up sitting as a group in red graduation gowns.

Also at the ceremony, the Lincoln chorus and band performed.