Political strategist encourages grads; Shaq surprises mom, crowd at B-CU graduation
BY ANDREAS BUTLER
Democratic political strategist Donna Brazile challenged 314 Bethune-Cookman University graduates Saturday to “create a better world’’ during her commencement speech at the Daytona Beach Ocean Center.
Brazile was bestowed an honorary doctorate degree during the ceremony along with Lucille O’Neal, a B-CU grad and board of trustees member. O’Neal’s famous son, Shaquille, surprised her and delighted the crowd when he attended the graduation donned in his cap and gown.
A regular political analyst on CNN, Brazile talked to the students about their ability to change the world. “Don’t underestimate your power to become a great figure in this country that we all love.
Don’t tell me that you cannot change the world. You put (President) Obama in the White House twice. If you can put a Black man in the White House, you can do anything,” she related.
She brought the graduates greetings from the White House.
“I bring brief greetings on behalf of President Barack Obama, first lady Michelle Obama and Vice President Joe Biden for best wishes for the Class of 2016,” said Brazile.
She encouraged the students to recognize their “unique power and ability.’’
“Use the power within you to work hard, persevere and serve. Continue to strive to educate yourselves. Education is power,” commented Brazile.
Legacy and activism
Brazile also encouraged the graduates to follow the legacy of the school’s founder, Dr. Mary McLeod Bethune.
“She is an example of what one can accomplish. She fought for civil rights and voters’ rights, which interest me. She always maintained her first passion, which was education. Invest in your community, your minds and the human soul like Dr. Bethune. She was faithful to people and her heart. She was fierce. She went to President Franklin Roosevelt by herself and demanded accountability and resources,” Brazile stated.
Brazile also had praise for the O’Neals.
“To Ms. O’Neal, it is great to honor and congratulate you, especially with all that you have done to serve others. You are truly a champion. You are truly a phenomenal woman,” she said.
Mrs. O’Neal founded the charitable organization, Mothers of Professional Basketball Players. She also is the author of “Walk Like You Have Somewhere to Go’’ and is the Southeast Director of B-CU’s Odessa Chambliss Quality of Life Fund, which was established by her family to help raise monies for educational needs, the Odessa Chambliss Health Equity Center and nursing scholarships. B-CU’s Odessa Chambliss center is named after her mother, who was a nurse.
Brazile and Shaq both attended Louisiana State University on basketball scholarships.
“I said that my body got me in school but my brains would get me out. Shaq’s body and brains got him in and out,” Brazile quipped.
Shaq did not speak at the ceremony, which also was attended by his siblings and uncle. However, he received a roaring ovation from the crowd. He showcased his bigger-than-life personality by making the crowd laugh while he helped his mom put on her honorary doctorate cap and stole.
Ms. O’Neal received an honorate doctorate degree in humane letters.
“I am overwhelmed with the recognition. I usually don’t like accepting awards for being a humanitarian. I believe that the village we came from is crumbling,” she said.
“I think we all who are a part of the Bethune-Cookman village can be proud. I am glad to be able to make a difference in people’s lives. I thank all of my children and my older brother who are in attendance. I thank you all for letting me be a service to you.”
‘Long, hard journey’
Bethune-Cookman celebrated its 75th graduating class with 314 students. During the fall 2015 commencement, there were 24 6 graduates. In spring 2015, B-CU graduated 322 students.
“We are very honored and proud of our graduates. We appreciate them. It’s been a long, hard journey. We know that they will become productive citizens in society,” said Dr. Joe Petrock, B-CU’s board of trustees chairman.
In her speech, Brazile spoke of the challenges ahead for the grads.
“It’s never easy, but I know that you are ready. Live your lives to the fullest. Give back, serve and love. Find joy in life. Turn off the electronics sometimes even when I’m on the news. The world is full of anger, fear and those who want to throw you off,” she noted.
‘Continue the fight’
Maximizing opportunities also was mentioned.
“It’s not where you are from, but what you do when you get there. God gave me a seat at the table. When you get your seat at the table, don’t just sit there….speak up,” Brazile said.
She also urged the graduates to continue the fight for civil rights.
“When I was a little girl listening to speeches by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., I could only dream of equality. It’s normal to you all today but others really had to fight for it. Continue the fight,” Brazile added.