William H. Gray III, son of FAMU’s fifth president, William H. Gray, Jr., served as the keynote speaker at Florida A&M University’s 120th anniversary Founder’s Day Convocation on Wednesday. Gray encouraged students to expand beyond remembering those who served as president.
A processional went before the convocation that led from the Black Archives to the Lee Hall Auditorium.
In addition to the guest speaker, the processional included officials from the national and two local chapters of the alumni association, deans from FAMU’s colleges and schools, members of Ammons’ leadership team, two former president: Walter Smith and Fred Gainous, Pamela Duncan of the board of trustees and several community religious leaders.
Hundreds of students, faculty and alumni gathered in Lee Hall to celebrate FAMU’s 120th anniversary. During the convocation, Gray told students to learn the meaning of FAMU, where they came from and how they got over.
“Don’t just think about Walter Smith, Fred Gainous and the other presidents,” Gray said. “Think about what they did, those that graduated and the burdens they went through…. strive for more [and] continue the legacy of excellence.”
Gray gave students a list of things to think about including excellence, perseverance and faith.
“Our founders persevered against all of the odds and barriers,” Gray said. “They had faith in themselves, their people and the future that they could achieve.”
Throughout his speech, Gray continued to remind students of the importance of not only looking back, but also looking forward. He said that when looking forward, students should think about the demographic revolution, or the change in the population of America.
“There are more people of color in America today as opposed to fifty years ago when it was mostly white,” Gray said.
Among many other things, Gray stressed the importance of continuing the legacy that FAMU’s founders left behind.
“[FAMU] was founded to give African-Americans an opportunity to get an education,” Gray said. “People said that we weren’t going to make it, but we have lasted 120 years.”
He ended his speech with a poem by Maya Angelou titled, “Still I Rise.” At the end of the poem, he told the students to rise up!
Many of FAMU’s professors and students said they really enjoyed this year’s convocation.
“Everything went off very nicely, it was a beautiful historical rendition of FAMU’s more celebrated era,” said Professor Elizabeth Dawson, curator of the Black Archives. “(The people in the procession) left at a bout 10 (in the morning) and proceeded to the quadrangle, to the eternal flame, to the historical marker and then to the entrance of Lee hall, where they had a packed audience anxiously awaiting their arrival.”
Alana Lewis, 20, a junior elementary education student from Augusta, Ga. said she attended convocation at the suggestion of one of her professors.
“This was my first one (convocation)…I know that’s horrible, but I thought it was wonderful,” Lewis said. “I spent my other convocations sleeping in or not going, but it was really nice and his speech really touched me because he really shed new light on things.”