Renowned journalist and White House correspondent April Ryan left Tennessee State University graduates with one key message Saturday: “Believe in yourselves and ‘stand’ in the face of adversities.”
Ryan, also a nationally syndicated radio host, delivered the commencement address at TSU’s fall graduation ceremony in the Howard C. Gentry Complex on the main campus. Nearly 500 undergraduate and graduate students received degrees in various disciplines.
TSU President Glenda Glover gave the welcome and thanked Ryan for accepting the invitation to speak at the graduation. She congratulated the graduates and thanked parents, relatives and friends for their support.
“I applaud you for having reached this extraordinary milestone in your academic career,” Glover said. “It does not matter how long it took you; you are sitting here this morning because you are graduating. You have endured.”
In her address, Ryan told the graduates that receiving their degrees does not guarantee that it will “catapult” them into middle-income status.
“But it lays the foundation,” she said. “There are going to be hurdles; life isn’t a crystal stair. You will be met with issues you have never seen before, but it starts with believing in yourselves.”
As a White House correspondent, Ryan has covered four presidential administrations. But it was her exchanges with President Donald Trump and his then-press secretary Sean Spicer following the last presidential election that thrust Ryan into the limelight. She makes frequent appearances on CNN as an analyst.
On the current political atmosphere and “racial divide,” Ryan pointed to TSU’s “unique role” as an HBCU and its involvement in the civil rights struggle of the ‘50s and ‘60s, when students from the university staged sit-ins in Nashville and across Tennessee. She also made reference to President Trump’s controversial visit to the opening of the civil rights museum in Mississippi, which is being boycotted by many prominent black leaders.
“I applaud these civil rights leaders for their decision to boycott because it is their right,” Ryan said. “But I also think that the president should go. We need for this president to go and see why the students were sitting in the ‘60s. We need this president to understand why Colin Kaepernick took a knee. We need for the president to see the pain from the ‘50s and ‘60s and that slavery was not just a different way of immigrating into the United States with a lady carrying a basket of fruit singing liberty.”
Tennessee State Rep. Harold Love, Jr., who previously earned a bachelor’s degree from TSU, was in attendance Saturday to receive his doctorate in public policy and administration. He described Ryan as the person with the “right tool” to transform the graduates’ thinking.
“As I sit here and think about getting another degree from TSU, I am excited, but also I am concerned about the direction our country is going in with the leadership that we have,” Love said. “I am hoping that our speaker will inspire students to leave from here with their degrees and help transform the world and bring us back to a place of peace, compassion, and responsibility.”
Later, President Glover presented Jaquantey Bowen, a biology major; and Williams Sanders, computer science major, with the Student Academic Excellence Award for achieving the highest grade point average in their various disciplines.