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VSU president tells vision for ‘opportunity university’ at investiture

3/31/2017, 5:29 p.m.
The mood was light and upbeat, hopeful yet determined at the investiture service last Friday for Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, ...
Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, the 14th president of Virginia State University, addresses the audience during his investiture ceremony last Friday at the university’s Multi-Purpose Center.

By Holly Rodriguez

The mood was light and upbeat, hopeful yet determined at the investiture service last Friday for Dr. Makola M. Abdullah, Virginia State University’s 14th president.

“I first met him … as a dashiki-wearing dude from Chicago,” said Dr. Henry Lewis, former president of Florida Memorial University and a former boss of Dr. Abdullah, who served as provost and vice president for academic affairs at the Miami Gardens, Fla., institution during Dr. Lewis’ tenure.

“You’ve picked the right man.”

Below, the Virginia State University Concert Choir and the university’s Gospel Chorale perform during the president’s investiture, including the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and the VSU alma mater.

Below, the Virginia State University Concert Choir and the university’s Gospel Chorale perform during the president’s investiture, including the black national anthem, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” and the VSU alma mater.

Dr. Abdullah is a Howard University alumnus and the youngest African-American to receive a Ph.D. in engineering from Northwestern University at age 24.

Before taking over the helm at VSU in February 2016, Dr. Abdullah also served as provost and senior vice president at Bethune-Cookman University and dean of the College of Engineering Sciences, Technology and Agriculture at Florida A&M University.

Last week’s ceremony, held in the university’s Multi-Purpose Center before a crowd of several hundred students, professors, visiting dignitaries, family members, friends and well-wishers, was the official inauguration of Dr. Abdullah, who took the oath of office and received the symbols of authority — presidential regalia, a medallion and mace — from VSU Rector Harry Black.

Speakers — from Virginia Secretary of Education Dietra Trent to his wife, Ahkinyala Cobb-Abdullah — spoke about his drive, dedication and relatability.

“I can call him, tweet him, text him, and he’ll respond,” said Franklin Johnson Jr., president of the VSU National Alumni Association.

“He and I laugh about everything — it’s our workout plan,” said Tracy Carter, a family member. “He has loyalty, integrity and love, and he can dance, too.”

During the weekend, VSU students and alumni circulated on social media a cellphone video of Dr. Abdullah hitting all the right moves in a dance routine with two others at a VSU student celebration on Friday night.

“It’s official y’all. My president is so dope!” said the accompanying tweet.

Among the dignitaries attending the investiture were state Sen. Rosalyn R. Dance of Petersburg; Petersburg Mayor Samuel Parham; Richmond Mayor Levar M. Stoney; Petersburg schools Superintendent Marcus Newsome; Norfolk State University President Eddie N. Moore Jr., a former president of VSU; Virginia Commonwealth University President Michael Rao; and Virginia Union University interim President Joseph F. Johnson.

“While it is no secret that VSU has seen its fair share of hard times, they have emerged stronger than ever with President Abdullah at the helm,” Secretary Trent said in a statement.

“His inauguration represents a new day for the VSU family and I look forward to continuing to work with the new president and his administration to address the issues facing our HBCUs and all of the Commonwealth’s colleges and universities.”

Dr. Lewis advised the VSU community to stand together to support the new president to continue the university’s progress.

“A university’s board of visitors, faculty and staff, alumni and friends are the four-legged stool that must support the president so the student can sit there properly.”

During his remarks, Dr. Abdullah outlined his vision for VSU, which he calls Virginia’s “opportunity university.”