In an uplifting speech during which he had the graduates repeat after him several times, civil right icon the Reverend Jesse Louis Jackson, Sr. delivered Bennett College’s Baccalaureate address inside a packed Annie Merner Pfeiffer Chapel on Friday, May 4.
Jackson spoke inside the same chapel where 60 years ago Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. delivered a speech. Jackson was with King when he was shot in the neck on April 4, 1968, at the Lorraine Motel in Memphis, Tennessee.
Bennett President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins presided over the service, which featured a beautiful rendition of “When the Saints Go to Worship” by the Bennett Choir with graduating senior Danielle Jeffries as the soloist and Dorthea L. Taylor, a 1999 Bennett graduate, directing.
Jackson spoke highly about the Bennett women who played a critical role in the sit-in movement, encouraged the graduates to always do what’s right and also told them to remember their alma mater once they graduate.
“It’s not how big the school is that you went to. It’s how big the school is in your heart,” he said. “We can’t go forward looking backward. You are not the tomorrow leaders. You are the right now leaders. You must love right now. You must go to graduate school right now.”
Jackson was introduced by former Bennett College President Dr. Julianne Malveaux. After the address, Dawkins and Bennett Board of Trustees Chair Dr. Gladys Ashe Robinson, a member of the Bennett College Class of 1971, bestowed an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters upon Jackson, who joked that he tried to get into Bennett years ago but then-president Dr. Willa B. Player wouldn’t let him.
Among those in the audience were former Bennett presidents Dr. Esther Terry, the only alumna to serve as the president, and Dr. Gloria Randle Scott.
Bennett’s Commencement begins at 10 a.m. today. White House Correspondent and CNN Political Analyst April Ryan is the keynote speaker.