Undergraduate Commencement

A Chip Off The Old Arch

By Robert C. Jones Jr.

A Chip Off The Old Arch

By Robert C. Jones Jr.
Nontombi Naomi Tutu, daughter of the iconic Archbishop Emeritus Desmond Tutu, delivers her father’s message to graduates and gives some powerful advice of her own.

His battle to end apartheid long since won and his earthly work nearly complete, Desmond Tutu now sits in his rocking chair back home in South Africa and reads of school shootings in the United States, bombing raids in Syria, terrorist attacks in Europe and global warming. 

It is a dreadful list, Tutu laments. But the South African archbishop emeritus and Nobel laureate, who used the power of his pulpit to fight injustice, refuses to be despondent. “I have had the opportunity to travel the world and interact with young people at universities, and I really do find them innovative, confident, and mightily impressive,” said "the Arch," as he is affectionately known. “I am convinced they will find the means and connections to clean up much of the mess we have left them.”

Naomi TutuTutu’s uplifting message, delivered by his daughter, Nontombi Naomi Tutu, served as the launching pad to a new world for more than 760 graduates who received undergraduate degrees Friday at the University of Miami’s morning commencement for its College of Arts and Sciences. It was the first of three undergraduate ceremonies to be held on Friday.

“The connection Miami has to issues of justice and equality, even in far flung places in Africa, is an expression of our human connectedness and interdependence,” said Naomi Tutu, reading her father’s words shortly after UM bestowed upon him an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters. “We are co-conspirators in the custodianship of our one and only earth.”

A champion activist for race and gender equality in her own right, she delivered a powerful message of her own to graduates, reciting a poem, “There Is a Pearl of Great Price Within You,” and explaining its relevance to the challenges UM’s newest alumni now face. 

“There is within each of you something that no one else in the world has,” said Naomi Tutu, an ordained clergy in the Episcopal Diocese of Tennessee. “There is within each of you something that the rest of us need for our world to behold. So I hope that as you walk out of here that this first line of the poem will always stay with you—that which is in you is not a mistake, that which is in you is not something that can be thrown away, that which is in you is something that is absolutely necessary for the well-being of all those around you and indeed the well-being of our world.” 

Today, she told graduates, is a “model for the rest of your life. That what you do in life offers others a chance for celebration—that the work you take up in our world offers others an opportunity for freedom from oppression, to use their voices for justice.” 

For Michelle McClendon, an administrative assistant in UM’s Auxiliary Services division who accepted her Bachelor’s Degree in General Studies, Friday was a day of overcoming struggle. During a seven-year period of unemployment, McClendon learned “I was outdated.” 

“I hadn’t made any progress,” she recalled, “and I felt I had failed my children by not getting a college degree.” 

But that all changed once she started working at Auxiliary Services. “I got leadership that made me realize I could do it, advisors who not only helped me with classes but also in finding a career path,” said McClendon.

Her father, who passed away 17 years ago, would have surely been proud of her today, she said. “He had only a sixth grade education, but worked his butt off for me and my brother, who graduated from here a few years ago,” said McClendon, shedding tears. “Dad always told me, ‘I don’t care if you have to wheel me in, I’m going to watch my second ’Cane walk across the stage.’ ” 

Over the 10 years Carmen Gilbert attended classes at UM to earn her BGS degree, she lost both her parents. “They were a big part in encouraging me to get my diploma," said Gilbert, an administrative assistant in the Department of Wellness and Recreation. “They’d leave dinner on a plate in a microwave for me when I got home after a late night of classes and studying.” 

Read her mortarboard, “For Mama & Papa. This One’s for U.”

Evan Forsell, who earned his B.A. with a major in religious studies, remembers his start at UM four years ago. “I felt so free, ecstatic, realizing how happy I was to be here.” His academic course was shifted by a “really fantastic English professor” who challenged him to experience more of the world and to find his own path. Forsell followed that advice and registered for several semesters of study abroad, first to Australia and then to India.  

“India plunged me into an experience of the different cultures of the world,” he said. “I had a deep experience that helped me realize that I was not all alone, but truly connected to all of humanity.” 

Recollections of Sir James Galway's earliest instructors, praise for the Frost School of Music's offerings, and a virtuoso performance highlighted the legendary flutist's remarks to graduates at the midday ceremony for the Schools of Architecture, Communication, Education and Human Development, Marine and Atmospheric Science, Music, and Nursing and Health Studies.

“I think to be successful in music or in any other subject for that matter, you need to love it,” said Galway, who received an Honorary Doctor of Musical Arts at the ceremony. “To this day I am passionate about music. I love listening to it and I still get a real kick out of playing.”

Sir GalwayGalway said he fell in love with music because of the encouragement he received from his early flute teachers in Belfast, and he considers himself lucky to have spent “the whole of my life in the world of musical arts.”

But his earliest days of musical training were not glamorous, he said, noting his Uncle Joe gave him his first flute lessons at age 9. “But the one thing I did have, and that you have, is encouragement and example,” Galway said. Frost School students, he explained, should consider themselves “fortunate to have the amazing facilities and opportunities it offers and the encouragement to develop their talents.”

Galway, who has conducted master classes and private and group coaching lessons at the school as a UM Distinguished Presidential Scholar, said Frost School’s mission statement “seems to me to get it right when it speaks of valuing a diversity of people and musical styles.”

He closed by performing an Irish tune on a tin whistle, a song characteristic of those he grew up listening to on the streets of Belfast.

In his advice to graduates of the Business School and the College of Engineering, Frank R. Jimenez, a Yale law graduate who earned his undergraduate degree from UM in 1987 and today serves as vice president, general counsel, and corporate secretary of Raytheon Company, recounted the time 36 years ago that he and some high school friends sneaked onto the University’s Coral Gables campus at 3 a.m. and jumped from the 10-meter diving platform at the Norman Whitten Pool.

Frank Jimenez“We weren’t reckless,” said Jimenez, the son of Cuban immigrant  “We didn’t run to the edge—we walked. We didn’t dive head-first. We jumped feet-first…But we jumped. And so should you. Not from the 10-meter platform, but from your place of comfort, when the time comes.”

Jimenez, who last June began a two-year term as president of the University of Miami Alumni Association and as a UM trustee, told graduates “the only way not to fail is to avoid risk.”

“Yet not taking risk is the surest way to fail. Guaranteed,” he said. “Without risk, you cannot chase your dreams, fulfill your potential, seize opportunities, or leave a lasting mark.”

Commencement ceremonies for the School of Law and Miller School of Medicine were set to take place Saturday at the Watsco Center.

Visit Special Report: 2018 Commencement for complete coverage.

UM News writer Michael Malone contributed to this report.