Speakers virtually inspire VUU graduates

George Copeland Jr. | 5/13/2021, 6 p.m.
It was a momentous day for thousands of students last Saturday as Virginia Union University recognized its spring 2021 graduates …
Actor-comedian Anthony Anderson urges Virginia Union University graduates to use their skills and experience gained at the Richmond institution to better their world. Photo courtesy of Virginia Union University

It was a momentous day for thousands of students last Saturday as Virginia Union University recognized its spring 2021 graduates with a virtual commencement ceremony.

The ceremony was the third virtual com- mencement held by VUU since the COVID-19 pandemic reached Virginia last year. As the university seeks to ensure the safety of students, faculty and staff, the ceremony was made up of multiple segments hosted and filmed across several locations, all broadcast to audiences across the internet.

Speakers celebrated the resilience of VUU students who learned and staff who worked through three semesters altered greatly by COVID-19. Their hard work in the face of massive change was a major theme in the commencement speeches, prayers and celebrations.

“We recognize that this season of the pandemic has been a tremendous challenge for us,” said Dr. W. Franklyn Richardson, chairman of the VUU Board of Trustees. “We have demonstrated in your class that Virginia Union spirit.”

Those congratulations ran the gamut.

“We’re excited about what you have accomplished,” said Dr. Hakim J. Lucas, president and chief executive officer of VUU, noting that students and professors made great strides “through a global pandemic and a continued fight for justice.”

A similar message was shared by actor, producer and philanthropist Anthony Anderson, who served as the official commencement speaker. While his jokes didn’t translate well to the format as he spoke from a location completely separate from other speakers, his call for graduates to use the skills and experience gained at VUU to better their world spoke to the hope and potential of the Class of 2021.

“Go be business people. Go be doctors and nurses. Go be comics and actors. Go be teachers,” Mr. Anderson said. “But be citizens, too, Class of 2021. You can be great, just make sure you do some good, too. We need it. We need you.”

Mr. Anderson was one of five honorary degree recipients during the ceremony. Others were Richmond Delegate Delores L. McQuinn of Richmond, a VUU alumna; Delegate Luke E. Torian of Prince William County, a VUU alumnus who serves as chairman of the House Appropriations Committee; Eva Teig Hardy, a former executive vice president at Dominion and former state secretary of health and human services under the late Gov. Gerald L. Baliles; and former Gov. Terry McAuliffe.

Dr. David R. Hedgley Jr., a 1958 graduate of VUU and pioneering computer scientist and mathematician, also was recognized for his work leading to the development of 3D graphics.

Senior Jalynn Hodges of Hampton was honored as class valedictorian. She served as a student member of the VUU Board of Trustees, spoke on Capitol Hill in advocating for more federal funding for historically black colleges and universities and, in addition to her studies, works in a lab testing and analyzing COVID-19 specimens. She wants to go to medical school.

Biology major Michela Marissa Mondesir, who has lettered in tennis for four years at VUU under Coach Guy Walton, was honored as salutatorian. The native of St. Lucia ended her VUU career with a 4.03 GPA and will attend the Oregon Health & Science University, where she will continue her research in neuroscience.

“You are Virginia Union University and you deserve to hold your head high, your shoulders square, your back straight and walk into your future with the nobility of all that represents our great legacy,” Dr. Lucas told the graduates. “We are proud of you.”