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HBCU Graduations

FAMU athlete’s graduation journey shows the resiliency of many this last year

Kailya Jackson of Florida A&M is among the thousands of HBCU students who’ll celebrate graduation this spring

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Over the past year, the coronavirus pandemic has altered the main event all college students anticipate: graduation. That moment of walking across the stage and receiving a diploma didn’t happen for so many, but that reality is slowly returning for students at historically Black colleges and universities (HBCUs).

Florida A&M University student-athlete Kailya Jackson, 22, a senior guard for the Rattlers, is grateful she was able to finally experience graduation. Saturday’s ceremonies mark the beginning of the HBCU graduation season as commencements begin at the 100-plus institutions.

  • Below is a list of all HBCU graduations

“I’m so happy and I feel really good. It’s been a long time coming and it’s been a very trying time for me, so I’m excited that this moment is finally here,” said Jackson.

The FAMU Alfred Lawson Jr. Multipurpose Center was half full as hundreds gathered for the graduation commencement ceremony Saturday, and those attending followed strict safety precautions, ensuring everyone wore a mask. Each graduate was given four tickets for family members and friends to reduce the number of attendees.

Although Jackson was able to participate in her graduation, the pandemic stripped away her senior basketball season. That upheaval was a part of many students’ lives this last year, as the pandemic postponed 2020 graduations, canceled sports seasons, kept students from campuses, and tragically ended the lives of many African Americans.

Before attending FAMU, Jackson played at Charleston Southern University and Pensacola State College, both on athletic scholarships. During her journey chasing the sport she loves, Jackson decided she wanted to find a school where her journey would be unique.

Florida A&M University graduate Kailya Jackson (center) and her family.

Marissa Stubbs

That was at FAMU. After being recruited by former head women’s basketball coach Kevin Lynum, she believed that FAMU was the right place to finish out her collegiate career. Jackson, of Gainesville, Florida, played guard and forward for the Rattlers.

“FAMU exceeded my expectations,” she said. “I’ve been to two different colleges, with different experiences, but FAMU truly felt like home.”

During her time with the Rattlers, Jackson completed one season as a starter, with her biggest accomplishment scoring a season-high 24 points against the University of South Carolina Upstate in 2019. Three days before the past season was set to start, Jackson and her team were notified it would be canceled. The players had been training from July through November, including taking weekly COVID-19 tests.

Although Jackson never tested positive for COVID-19, she describes the process as very challenging, trying to balance school work and practicing during the pandemic.

“We started off getting tested once a week, it then became three and eventually every day. I was distraught when I found out the season was canceled. All my life I was used to being a student-athlete. Now I just had to be a student,” said Jackson.

Jackson received her degree in business administration Saturday and plans to pursue her MBA – and to potentially play basketball again.

Saturday’s ceremonies were for 2021 graduates – FAMU plans separate ceremonies for 2020 grads in July – who were encouraged to not only leave their mark on the university but to reflect on the investment they have made in themselves.

“It’s been a challenge to stay healthy, but you have risen,” said university president Larry Robinson. “During this last year, you have progressed through unprecedented times and I thank you for joining us on this fight to help protect the family. You have demonstrated what can be accomplished by simply pushing forward and never giving up.”

Commencement speaker Brian Lamb, a member of the state board of governors for the university system, left the Class of 2021 with four tools to carry with them through life.

“There are four tools you need on your journey in life. The first tool to grab when you reach into your bag is being prepared,” said Lamb. “Also, have the tool of relationships in your bag. You must invest in one another. Another tool is to find the intersection of your passion and, lastly, always protect the tool of your reputation.”

’21 HBCU graduations and commencements

Alabama A&M University
Alabama State University
Albany State University
Alcorn State University
Allen University
American Baptist College
University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff
Arkansas Baptist College
Barber-Scotia College
Benedict College
Bennett College
Bethune-Cookman University
Bishop State Community College
Bluefield State College
Bowie State University
Carver College
Central State University
Charles Drew University of Medicine and Science
Cheyney University of Pennsylvania
Claflin University
Clark Atlanta University
Clinton College
Coahoma Community College
Coppin State University
Delaware State University

Actor and Howard University alum Chadwick Boseman (second from right) was the commencement speaker at the 2018 university’s graduation ceremony. Howard is still working on an alternative graduation plan for this year.

Howard University


Denmark Technical College
Dillard University
University of the District of Columbia
Edward Waters College
Elizabeth City State University
Fayetteville State University
Fisk University
Florida A&M University
Florida Memorial University
Fort Valley State University
Gadsden State Community College
Grambling State University
Hampton University
Harris-Stowe State University
Hinds Community College at Utica
Hood Theological
Howard University
Huston-Tillotson University
Interdenominational Theological Center
J. F. Drake State Technical College
Jackson State University
Jarvis Christian College
Johnson C. Smith University
Johnson C Smith Theological Seminary

Nikki Kahn/The Washington Post via Getty Images

Kentucky State University
Knoxville College
Lane College
Langston University
Lawson State Community College
LeMoyne-Owen College
Lincoln University
Livingstone College
University of Maryland Eastern Shore
Meharry Medical College
Miles College
Miles School of Law
Mississippi Valley State University
Morehouse College
Morehouse School of Medicine
Morgan State University
Morris Brown College
Morris College
Norfolk State University
North Carolina A&T State University
North Carolina Central University
Oakwood University
Paine College
Paul Quinn College
Payne Theological *
Philander Smith College
Prairie View A&M University
Rust College

U.S. Rep. John Lewis delivers graduation speech at Lincoln University in Pennsylvania on May 5, 2019.

Bob Williams/Lincoln University


Savannah State University
Selma University
Shaw University
Shelton State Community College
Shorter College
Simmons College of Kentucky
South Carolina State University
Southern University at New Orleans
Southern University at Shreveport
Southern University and A&M College
Southwestern Christian College
Spelman College
St. Augustine’s University
St. Philip’s College
Stillman College
Talladega College
Tennessee State University
Texas College
Texas Southern University
Tougaloo College
H. Councill Trenholm State Community College
Tuskegee University
University of the Virgin Islands
Virginia State University
Virginia Union University

AP Images

Virginia University of Lynchburg
Voorhees College
West Virginia State University
Wilberforce University
Wiley College
Winston-Salem State University
Xavier University of Louisiana

Marissa Stubbs is a junior broadcast journalism scholar from St. Petersburg, Florida. She is the assistant sports editor for The Famuan, Florida A&M’s school newspaper, and a sports reporter for athletics.

East is a 2019 Rhoden Fellow and a sophomore multimedia journalism major from North Carolina (“the 336” to be specific). She is the creator and host of East&Market, a campus-based YouTube show, and also serves as a videographer for the Aggies football team.