The speakers and musical performers at Friday’s Founder’s Day Convocation celebrated FAMU’s history of perseverance.

State Rep. Curtis D. Richardson, master of ceremonies for the event, spoke about his appreciation and respect for the services FAMU provides to the state and its students on what marked the university’s 116th anniversary. He recognized the benefit that FAMU and other HBCUs have for minority students searching for a nurturing environment.

He said FAMU is “a refuge for those oppressed by bigotry.”

Joseph L. Webster, the program’s keynote speaker, linked the students of FAMU to the black “Diaspora” during slavery and reminded the audience to remember the union between the current and past generations.

Remembering the bigotry rampant in America at the time of the university’s founding, Webster used FAMU’ s triumphs as examples for the school’s resilience. He told the audience to never forget the “soul” of the school. Webster stressed the importance of remaining optimistic for further growth despite the challenges that others will surely pose.

“We always believe we can take nothing and make it something because of the faith we have,” Webster said.

Following the keynote speech, President Fred Gainous thanked Webster for his candor and honesty.

A 1941 FAMU graduate, Carriemae Marquess, conveyed the significance of the ceremony.

“We are here to recall fondly and celebrate with enthusiasm the founding of our FAMU,” she said.

Recalling the humble beginnings FAMU endured during its earlier years, she commended alumni and former presidents for their leadership.

FAMU started with 15 students in 1887 on a former slave plantation. After two years, the first graduating class consisted of five students.

“We are indebted to them for paving the way for us today,” Marquess said.

A new documentary, “A Backward Glance,” was also shown. The documentary, produced by Murrell O. Dawson, interim director of Southeastern Regional Black Archives Research Center and Museum, gave a short history of the school’s founding and its nine presidents.

Accounts of trials in the university’s history were shown in the 10-minute documentary, including the school’s struggles to expand its curriculum and student protests against FAMU merging with FSU during the Civil Rights Movement.

Later in the ceremony, John Haugabrook, president of the Leon County alumni chapter, presented a check for $5,000 to Gainous. Gainous said the check would be used for the student body.

Steven Jumper can be reached at