Banners that read “Congratulations Tiffany Lewis, FAMU Graduate 2007,” “Go Derrick,” “We Love U,” and “Proud of U” along with shouts of happiness and camera flashes were seen and heard throughout the Tallahassee Leon County Civic Center at Florida A&M University’s (FAMU) commencement exercises. FAMU conferred 732 degrees to society’s next wave of productive citizens.
Keynote speaker Nikki Giovanni, who is currently the University Distinguished Professor at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg, Virginia, told FAMU students a heartfelt story about a football game between FAMU and Virginia Tech.
“By halftime, the score was 47-0 in favor of Virginia Tech,” said Giovanni. “However, every time the FAMU quarterback had the ball, he kept playing,” said Giovanni.
The next Tuesday after the game in her class, Giovanni asked members of the football team who did they think was the best player at the Saturday game. They mentioned various names but Giovanni told them that the best player was FAMU’s quarterback.
“He knew the odds were against him but he keep giving it his all,” said Giovanni. “After the game, he left the field with his head held high. You too must remember to do your best and hold your head up high. Never give up.”
Giovanni’s words of encouragement were reinforcement for Toneka Pinkney, a public relations graduate.
"Her [Nikki Giovanni] words were inspiring,” said Pinkney. “It's something I'll remember throughout my professional career."
Pinkney also noted that she was very proud of herself.
"Once I walked across the stage I realized the importance of accomplishment,” said Pinkney. “I can't wait to get into the real world and show them what FAMU has produced.”
Giovanni received awards as well. President Ammons presented Giovanni with the President’s Award and an honorary doctorate of humane letters.
After receiving her honorary doctorate, Giovanni said that she was very proud of being a part of FAMU.
A native of Knoxville, Tennessee, Giovanni grew up in Lincoln Heights, an all-black suburb of Cincinnati, Ohio. She and her sister spent their summers with their grandparents in Knoxville. She graduated with honors from Fisk University, her grandfather's alma mater, in 1968. After graduating from Fisk, she attended the University of Pennsylvania and Columbia University.
She published her first book of poetry, Black Feeling Black Talk, in 1968, and within the next year published a second book, thus launching her career as a writer. Early in her career she was dubbed the "Princess of Black Poetry," and over the course of more than three decades of publishing and lecturing she has come to be called both a "National Treasure" and, most recently, one of Oprah Winfrey's twenty-five "Living Legends."
PHOTO CAPTION: FAMU President James H. Ammons presents Nikki Giovanni with an honorary doctorate of humane letters at FAMU’s commencement exercises.