If Jessica Gonzalez someday becomes Teacher of the Year, she may have $5 from Tom Joyner to thank for her start.
That’s because Joyner, a syndicated radio host and the commencement speaker at Morgan State University’s spring commencement ceremonies, presented Gonzalez and each of her fellow graduates with a crisp five-dollar bill as they accepted their diplomas Saturday.
“Everyone today is asking ‘When are you going to start making some money?’ and the answer is ‘As soon as you walk across this stage,’” said Joyner.
Joyner explained that he had $5 for each of the 725 graduates at the ceremony. He gave it to them for their future and for them to make it grow.
“When I see you, I want you to tell me how many zeros and commas and zeros and more commas and more zeros and commas you put for that $5,” said Joyner.
Gonzalez, an elementary education major, was all too happy to apply her gift to her prospective students.
“Hopefully, it can help to build my classroom up so that it can be the best environment possible,” said Gonzalez. “I hope to give my kids all the supplies and support that they need. I hope this [five dollars] is what that does.”
“I’m excited, I’m just ready to start my career. I want to become a elementary school teacher, so I hope all goes well.”
In the rain, Gonzalez and her fellow graduates eagerly walked onto the Hughes Stadium field Saturday in ponchos and with umbrellas to take part in graduation activities as crowds of family and friends cheered alongside the field to celebrate their success.
“We’re so very pleased to have all of you with us this morning to take part in Morgan’s 142nd spring graduation ceremonies and we thank you for joining us despite the challenges presented to us by the weather today,” said Morgan President David Wilson as he welcomed the crowd.
The Morgan State choir followed by the singing of the Negro National Anthem, Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing, during the ceremony.
Wilson then introduced Joyner, as “the hardest working man in radio.”
“Good morning Morgan State University class of 2018. Do you feel the magic?” said Joyner as he began his speech.
Joyner opened with a reference to the other major event on the calendar, the wedding between Britain’s Prince Harry and Meghan Markle, a biracial American actress.
“I have to confess I almost didn’t make it,” said Joyner. “Yes, I was asked to walk Meghan Markle down the aisle, but I made a better choice and decided to be here with this royal family.”
He thanked the graduates for being their speaker for the day as he announced his retirement from his morning radio show in 18 months.
Throughout his speech, Joyner touched on the importance of historically black colleges and universities.
“We’re living in a climate where the importance of HBCUs everywhere are being challenged, and of course that didn’t just start,” said Joyner. “So many things we thought would never happen are actually happening. The madness has gone to a new level and much of it is unfolding right before your own eyes, class of 2018.”
The university also paid tribute to the graduating class of 1968, which marked its 50th anniversary with more than 70 members returning to Morgan.
Besides Joyner, Morgan also conferred honorary doctoral degrees upon award-winning filmmaker Stanley Nelson, who taught a documentary course at the university, and Gloria Ladson-Billings, a 1968 Morgan graduate and one of the nation’s leading authorities on pedagogy and critical race theory.
In deference to the rainy conditions, portions of the service were cut, including performances from the university’s choir.
Joyner, who was born and raised in Tuskegee, Ala., touched on his own experience with HBCUs’ as a graduate of the then-Tuskegee Institute.
“I spent all my life knowing what I know about HBCUs,” said Joyner. “Not because someone told me, but because of what I saw and what I lived.”
“My brother and I, my two sons, my two nieces, all graduated from HBCUs’. I say that not to brag or get applause I say that because that’s a fact that I’m proud of, and it’s also why I know what I’m talking about.”
He stressed the significance of the graduation and how the graduates were now a part of something great.
“This ceremony today is more than a moment. This ceremony today marks your entry into a legacy of greatness that goes way beyond the great Morgan State University.”
“Class of 2018, it takes all of us, and all of you and the future generations ahead of us to keep HBCUs alive.”
Joyner referenced colleges such as Concordia College Alabama, which announced the closing of their school at the end of this spring semester after 95 years.
He also mentioned Morris Brown College, an HBCU that has also faced the challenge of keeping their school alive.
“You probably thought that Morris Brown was dead and buried,” said Joyner, adding he would be speaking at their commencement before a class of 15.
He explained his foundation and how it is dedicated to the service of HBCUs’ to keep the schools going, and not leaving them merely as black history. The foundation, to date has raised more than $65 million for HBCUs, with more than $1 million coming to Morgan.
“In 1997, the Tom Joyner Foundation was established because I wanted to continue the legacy of showing love to HBCUs’ like my mom had done,” said Joyner.