Fredessa Hamilton Cobb s Graduate Student Address for Fall 2013 Communication Department Commencement Ceremony

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1 Fredessa Hamilton Cobb s Graduate Student Address for Fall 2013 Communication Department Commencement Ceremony Good afternoon, Class of 2013! Good afternoon, parents, family members, friends, and the esteemed faculty and staff of the NC State University s Department of Communication. I am honored to be the Graduate Student Commencement Speaker for the Fall 2013 Commencement Ceremony. I believe that the story I am about to share with you at this momentous occasion in our lives is compelling and inspiring, and I hope it will encourage my fellow Communication graduates to pursue a life of service, community engagement, academic achievement, and compassion for others. My background is particularly well suited to illustrate this life agenda. Tomorrow, I will celebrate my 59 th birthday. Seven years ago, in 2006, I decided to pursue my Ph.D. after leaving National Public Radio. NC State s brand-new doctoral program in Communication, Rhetoric and Digital Media (CRDM) appeared to be designed just for me. NC State s Master s degree programs in Communication and in English were well established here when, in 2005, the College of Humanities and Social Sciences inaugurated a brand-new Ph.D. program that combined the scholarship in the English and Communication Departments to further advance the study of Communication and Rhetoric in this increasingly digital world. The CRDM program has become an immersive experience, featuring practical application of digital media theory and tools, and provides a fertile training ground for learning how to teach and study digital communication. Our faculty members are internationally known scholars, and we could not have been more fortunate than to have this group of instructors helping us to navigate the interdisciplinary study of English and Communication. 1

2 I am eternally grateful to the Communication and English faculty, staff, and the undergraduate and graduate students, all of whom supported my research and provided invaluable guidance and encouragement. I am especially appreciative of all of the undergraduates that I have been privileged to teach and mentor here at NC State and at Shaw University where I am currently a professor. I especially want to take this opportunity on behalf of all of the Fall 2013 graduates to thank our families for your undying support and encouragement of our academic achievement. We really know that we could not have done it without you. Let me tell you a little bit about how my journey started. After more than 25 years of working in Telecommunications, public broadcasting and other fields, I was accepted into the CRDM program, and was returning to graduate school. I started the program 22 years after receiving my master s degree, and my acceptance into the program allowed me to pursue my second career and my lifelong ambition to teach at the university level. I have wanted to teach college since I was 8 years old, and now, thanks to my study here, that dream has been fulfilled It took me seven years, but I stand today as a proud representative of NC State and all that this institution does for the people of North Carolina. The history of innovation, engagement, and pursuit of excellence here ensures that its graduates are among the best prepared in the country to lead, teach, and inspire, and I represent one of the people who eagerly await the opportunity to give back some of what has been provided to me. I have always been concerned with the plight of adults who are low-literate, with reading levels at the equivalent of elementary school grades 0-2. My dissertation focused on this forgotten population, which sadly includes many in communities throughout North Carolina and around the U.S. Over 30 million people cannot read or write in America. This issue concerns me personally because I am a first generation 2

3 African American college student whose father completed only the 5 th grade. Hearing the stories of those who spoke with me during my field research has given me a mandate to work diligently to improve the educational prospects for these adults. This means that my academic work is not complete, and I hope that many of the graduates here today can say the same. Graduate study is so important and necessary to address the issues in our growing and changing world, and I strongly encourage today s undergraduate class of 2013 to consider entering a graduate degree program. I am the first African American to graduate from the CRDM program at NC State, I think I am the oldest CRDM graduate, and, by the way, the first Washington, DC native to graduate from the program. To stand here and say those words is particularly meaningful because of my journey. This first is not my first first. My sisters and I were among the first African American students to integrate the Rockingham, North Carolina public school system. When I was accepted as a freshman at Duke University in 1973, the institution had admitted the first African Americans only 10 years before. While at Duke, I became the first black student to become president of a dormitory, and the first black undergraduate resident advisor. There were many classes, at Duke, Ohio University, and here at NC State, where I was the lone African American student among my classmates. However, my classmates and I formed lifelong bonds through our shared scholarship, debate, and discussions. My CRDM cohort mates graduated before I did, but I must credit my fellow students with encouraging my pursuit of scholarly study. Furthermore, in 2008, I became the first African American CRDM student to receive the Outstanding Graduate Teaching Assistant award, and in 2010, I was our college s recipient of the Academic Achievement Award, sponsored by the Association for the Concerns of African American Graduate Students, proudly representing the CRDM program. Through all of this, the instances where I had to walk alone, study alone, and, yes, agonize alone were too numerous to mention. But the distinction of 3

4 being the first African American to complete the CRDM program, and achieve my Ph.D. must be considered the greatest academic accomplishment of my life. The training, mentoring, and instruction that I received here at NC State has made me a better teacher, scholar, and citizen, and I know that I echo many of you in saying that we could not have chosen a better institution for our college studies. I, like many of you, have achieved my lifelong dream. Earning a college degree is part of the American dream, and we have accomplished this aspiration. But our work is not done. There is still a great deal of work to do in this country to alleviate the suffering of the less fortunate, to clean up our environment from decades of misuse, to encourage the downtrodden, and to heal the wounds of war and destruction. America and the world needs us, the 2013 graduate class, to lead the way in righting the wrongs of our past, and we must use our expertise in Communication to meet these challenges. The world after college is full of enormous possibilities for this year s graduates, but this must be tempered with empathy and concern for those who have not had the same opportunities. Remembering others who have gone before us, we are compelled to improve the lot of those who follow us. I want to leave you with two short messages from the poet, songwriter and teacher, Curtis Mayfield. Yes, Curtis Mayfield. In one of his songs from the 1960 s, he tells us that We re a winner, and never let anybody say, Boy, you can t make it, cause a feeble mind is in your way. No more tears do we cry, and we have finally dried our eyes, cause we re movin on up. But not long after that, he wrote these words: People must prove to the people a better day is coming for you and for me. With just a little bit more education and love for our nation, we ll make a better society. These words are as true in 2013 as they were in the 1960 s, and there is no greater goal for this year s Communication graduates than to make this nation a better society. As for me, to honor the contributions of my ancestors to my scholarship, career, and future community 4

5 engagement, and to encourage all of my fellow graduates of the class of 2013, I am again grateful for the opportunity to share my story with you. Thank you very much. 5

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