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Chester County Press

Stevie Wonder highlights Lincoln University’s Commencement

05/08/2024 07:10PM ● By Chris Barber
Stevie Wonder highlights Lincoln University’s Commencement [2 Images] Click Any Image To Expand

The mood was electric at the Lincoln University graduation ceremony with the news that beloved musician Stevie Wonder was one of four individuals about to receive an honorary doctorate.

Each time Wonder’s name was mentioned and following the bestowing of his honor on Sunday, there was loud cheering. Even in the lead up musical prelude for “Pomp and Circumstance,” all of the melodies played were Wonder’s songs: “Isn’t She Lovely” and “My Cherie Amour,” among others.

At his introduction given by music department chair Charles Pettaway, Wonder was praised for his humanitarian efforts, his generosity of spirit and the spearheading of efforts to make Martin Luther King Jr. Day a national holiday.

Wonder, a winner of 25 Grammy Awards, referenced his lifelong blindness when he told the audience, “I have been able to see so many things with my heart you can never look at. I can see with the vision of the spirit.”

He added, “I will always write songs about how we can love better.”

During the commencement, Lincoln University conferred undergraduate diplomas and masters degrees to more than 400 students. The event was held in the university gym in deference to the daylong rain in the area. The graduation activities ran smoothly despite the fact that they were held indoors rather than outside.

In her greeting to the graduates, Lincoln University President Brenda Allen praised the seniors for their resilience.

“You came at the height of the pandemic that Nature dealt you,” she said.

She also praised her faculty for helping their students realize that they did not have to face COVID-19 alone.

Likewise, Gerald Bruce, Chairman of the Board of Trustees, echoed Allen’s assessment of the students’ resilience and that of former Lincoln students through the years.

“This is the 165th commencement. That was before the abolition of slavery. Imagine how resilient they had to be,” he said.

The Commencement address was given by lawyer Bryan Stevenson. He is the founder and director of the Equal Justice Initiative in Montgomery, Alabama. He has won legal cases for eliminating unfair sentences, exonerating a death row prisoner and exposing the abuse of the mentally ill who are incarcerated, according to his bio.

In addition to Lincoln University, Stevenson has received more than 50 honorary doctoral degrees, including from Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Penn and Oxford University. He is also the author of the bestselling book, “Just Mercy.”

His address to the audience held them transfixed.

He first advised them to take the advice of those who came before them, as he had from his grandmother who was the child of slaves.

He enumerated the causes he pursues including treating drug addiction as an illness rather than a crime.

He told them throughout history of the Black population, it  has been the victim of prejudice and a national self-deception that was built on acceptance and pursuit of slavery and the proposition of white supremacy.

In the cases of criminal prosecution, it has often been the case that Blacks are more prone to be assumed guilty, he said.

“The greatest evil narrative of slavery is the belief that Black people aren’t as good as White people,” he said. “That led to white supremacy. … You will have to navigate a proscription of guilt and inferiority in your lives.”

He added,  “Racial difference has to change.”

He further told the students that, in their lives, they will have to commit themselves to doing some uncomfortable things.

“The opposite of poverty is justice. Keep beating the drums for justice,” he concluded.

The second honorary doctorate conferred was to Johnnetta Betsch Cole. She was the first African-American to serve as the chair of the Board of the United Way of America. She has served as chair of the board and seventh president of the National Council of Negro Women and president of Spellman and Bennett colleges.

She has also authored and edited numerous articles and books.

The third person honored with the Doctorate of Humane Letters was Philadelphia Mayor Cherelle Parker.

A native of Philadelphia, she presented a passionate and uplifting address, imploring her audience to believe in themselves and use their Lincoln University educations for justice.

She is the 100th Mayor of Philadelphia. Parker is a graduate of the Lincoln University Class of 1994, and she went on to get her master’s degree from the University of Pennsylvania.

She was formerly elected to the Pennsylvania State House and was chair of the Philadelphia delegation. In 2023 she won the Philadelphia mayoral election – the first woman to hold that office.

She praised Lincoln, referring to it as a light for her life. She said she tells others never to “shine a cloud on the light of Lincoln.”

Lincoln University is the nation’s first degree-granting, Historically Black College and University, and it is located in Lower Oxford Township. It provides a rigorous liberal arts education featuring active and collaborative learning, according to the graduation program.