PINE BLUFF, Ark. – 169 students graduated from the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff during Fall 2014 commencement exercises at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Jeff Johnson, journalist, youth advocate and thought leader was present to deliver the commencement address.
In the midst of the pomp and circumstance, Johnson admitted that this was also a time to celebrate their triumph in an informal way. He invited students and their families to have a moment in appreciation of the journey they’ve experienced to get to this point. He brought attention to those that are first generation college graduates, those that may have had to surmount financial challenges, the families that invested in them and the faculty that worked hard to prepare them to start this new chapter in life.
“God made a way for us to be here today,” Johnson said. “If we don’t honor that in the midst of the moment, then there’s something we’re denying ourselves as human beings.”
As he reflected on the recent occurrences of police brutality against young black males, protests from multiple communities in reaction to legal decisions and his interview with United States President Barack Obama, he talked about the need for revolution and the many ways it can be embodied. He noted that revolution is necessary and we need to decide if it will be peaceful or whether it will be violent.
“[Whatever] field you’re going into, there is disruption that has to take place if the changes that are necessary and all that we have learned at this institution are ever to be meaningful,” Johnson said. “No one leads a field by being a coward [by] following the path that has been provided or doing what everyone tells them to do.”
He also expressed his frustration with historically black universities and challenged them to not lose sight of building leaders that challenge authority and push the rules because the ones that make the most money don’t follow the rules.
Johnson used his signature fiery, thought-provoking delivery style to challenge graduates to allow the revolution that is already in them to blossom and not be afraid to go against the grain to make change.
“Can you do what is different to be able to change that which the status quo says is the only thing that can be successful?” asked Johnson.
While discussing the different ways to be carriers of revolution no matter where they go, he asked them to consider ways to do something differently than anybody else has and not be bound even by the types of degrees each of them have received. He stated that they have to be willing to insert their brilliance into a situation and bringing about a change that would not have occurred had they not been there. This ultimately means bringing nontraditional entities in a synergistic way to change things dramatically and affect the next generation.
“The very work that you do in the next 5-10 years isn’t just about providing financial stability, opportunities and degrees and things for yourself,” said Johnson. “It is to inspire those that are watching that you don’t know are watching you.”
As his speech came to a close, he stated that this generation is the greatest he’s ever seen and is able to process things in ways no one else has, possesses vision no one else has and should be able to go farther than anyone else ever dreamed. Telling a parody of a young man named Tyrone, he reiterated the importance of working with what you have to make a difference when placed in the right hands.
“What do your hands tell you can build, create, tear down and lift up?” asked Johnson. “If all you do is get the degree and go get a job that gives you the ability to get a check, you are wasting every talent that God gave you. If you step out into the world stating it’s not about the paper, it’s about the call on my life, the gifts within me and the hands I can use – you can change the world.”