Claflin University's 2023 Matriculation Day on Tuesday, September 12, in the W.V. Middleton Fine Arts Center combined the exuberance and excitement of a pep rally with the passionate exhortations of a church revival.Virginia Union University President/CEO Dr. Hakim J. Lucas delighted the audience of primarily first-year Claflin students with a high-energy message that included quotes from scripture and penetrating insight into their hardships, challenges, and opportunities to find purpose in their lives.
"Let's talk about the importance of the two words that have been placed before you - "Elevation and Transformation," Lucas said. "Elevation is the space between the seas and the heavens. Elevation is going higher than the seas. Transformation is the ability to change a form of one thing to another thing. I came in one way and went out another."
Lucas earned a bachelor's degree from Morehouse College, a master's degree in teaching (History) from Tufts University, an Executive MBA from Stetson University, and a Master of Divinity (Church History) from Union Theological Seminary at Columbia University. He earned his doctoral degree ineducation from Fordham University. Lucas is a transcendent leader who haschosen education as his form of advocating for social justice. As such, he isactive with several advisory councils and organizations, including Alpha PhiAlpha Fraternity, Inc., Prince Hall Freemasonry, and 100 Black Men.
Lucas labeled the responses to circumstances in our lives as "Three Spaces" – "What The…? Say it Again, and I Got It." He interacted with the audience through a call-and-response dialog -- much like a pastor to his congregation -- as he described each space.The first response is after going through things "you could have neverimagined." The second is when "in the midst of the storm, you realizethat you are more than a conqueror." The third is when, after surviving hardships – "you experience the Transformation."
"You are here," said Lucas, who has more than two decades of experience in higher education. His success includes fundraising, strategic planning, and the engagement and retention of students in challenging educational experiences.Lucas ended his remarks by reciting an extensive list of history making Claflin alumni while the audience responded with "Say it Again."
"These are the stones that represent the legacy on whose shoulders you stand on," he said, referencing alumni such as Robert Bates, the first African American certified as an architect; Dr. Gloria Blackwell, an African-American Civil Rights activist who was at the center of the Civil Rights Movement in Orangeburg, S.C.; and author and civil rights photographer Cecil Williams, who has chronicled the Civil Rights Movement in South Carolina.
"You could have given up in the ninth grade, but you didn't. You showed up. You are here on Matriculation Day, and you deserve a standing ovation. I could not disappoint my ancestors by coming to a place trying to make me better and elevate me - and not be transformed. Be bold; use your voice. I Got That -- because the Lord heard my prayer."
The program also featured the installation of Claflin's Student Government Association (SGA) officers for the 2023-24 academic year.
Senior Jabez Roberson, a senior marketing major from Aiken, S.C., is president, and the vice president is Amari Walker, a junior biology major from Charleston, S.C. The other officers are Secretary: Ebony Pough, a sophomore elementary education major from Columbia, S.C.; Treasurer: Arden Promise Joseph, a sophomore mass communication major from Columbia, S.C.;Chaplain: Joel Burgess, a junior psychology major from Columbia, S.C.; Director of Public Relations: Anaiya Whaley, senior mass communications & psychology major from Orangeburg, S.C.; and Chief of Staff:Tierra Albert, a sophomore political science major from Pittsburgh, Pa.
Dr. Nick Robinson, associate professor of English, presented on behalf of the Claflin faculty. Music selections were performed by the Claflin University Concert Choir.
"What you do from this day forward will define what it means to be elevated and transformed at Claflin University," said Claflin President Dr. Dwaun J. Warmack. "The mentoring you receive from the juniors and seniors will make a difference in your career. They overcame COVID-19 -- they fought through it. They are the reason we opened early. Listen to them. They have a message for you."
Warmack congratulated the Office of Institutional Advancement, which spearheaded a successful $1 million-dollar alumni giving campaign. The University asked Claflin alumni to donate $1 million for scholarships in one academic year. Warmack was pleased to announce that the alumni had exceeded the goal.
"Class of 2027, our alumni believe in you and are investing in your future," Warmack said. "Claflin leads all HBCUs in annual alumni giving percentage at more than 40 percent."
Claflin has also been a Top 10 HBCU (Historically Black College/University) and the No. 1 HBCU in South Carolina for 13 consecutive years.
"This would not happen without our world-class faculty," he said. "I thank you and our dedicated staff that stay after hours to ensure our students succeed. Truly, it takes a village. Claflin is a village. It's not rhetoric. We believe in nurturing our students."
Warmack issued a challenge to the Class of 2027 after announcing the Class of 2026 had a remarkable retention rate of 80 percent – the highest for any class at Claflin in the past 20 years. He asked the Class of 2027 if they could surpass that mark.
"I expect you to reach 95 percent," he told the class." I want all of you back here next year."
Warmack talked about the University's commitment to academic excellence,and cited the new world-class Student Center as an example of how enhancing the campus culture outside the classroom is also essential. He explained that the facility was the vision of former SGA President Kayla Hodges. She told him"there was nothing for students to do because there were no bowling alleys or movie theaters, and asked could something be done in Orangeburg?"
“It was her vision and leadership as SGA president that led us to build a new Student Center,” said Warmack. “Class of 2027 - what will be your legacy?"
Click here to watch the recorded service on Facebook.