St. Thomas UVI grads ready to continue success

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ST. THOMAS - The University of the Virgin Islands' 50th graduating class on St. Thomas made it clear Saturday evening that they were not going to stop their success after getting their college diplomas.

"Are you ready? Are you ready?" shouted class speaker Natalie Richardson, who was class president and a marketing student at the university.

Richardson and about 200 other students walked across the stage - many of them in high heels and bedazzled caps - on Saturday at the campus's sports complex before proud family and friends.

They pumped their fists, broke out into dance and even hugged University President David Hall before making their way to the other side of the stage, and the other side of their education.

Of the students, more than 100 received degrees from the School of Business; 20 from the School of Education; 11 from the School of Nursing; 41 from the College of Liberal Arts and Social Sciences; and 52 from the College of Science and Mathematics.

"You can't know where you're going, until you know where you've been," said the keynote speaker, Henry Louis Gates, Jr.

Gates is the Alphonse Fletcher University Professor and Director of the Hutchins Center for African and African American Research at Harvard University, as well as a literary scholar, filmmaker and journalist.

More recently he served as a consultant for the Oscar Award-winning film "12 Years a Slave" and in years past has been listed as one of Time Magazine's Most Influential Americans and Ebony's Power 100 list and Power 150 list.

"Each of you represents dreams fulfilled," Gates said.

Gates, who spoke at length about the strife of Caribbean revolutionary, Bodhoe, and also Oprah Winfrey's great-great grandfather, Constantine Winfrey, reminded students that they partially owed their accomplishments to their families and to their ancestors, who paved a path for them.

Without her past, nursing student Hashia Wallace, 38, recognized that she likely would not have headed down the road that she did.

"I had a son that passed away, and I had such great nurses in the ICU," Wallace said, noting that the nurses who cared for her son, who lived for 16 days, were the ones that inspired her to go into medicine.

Wallace, of Coral Bay, St. John, had to commute four hours round-trip every day to keep up with her studies, which she completed in four years, compared to the usual five or six that most nursing students take. She was also raising five children, all of whom were there to meet her, along with her husband, after she graduated.

"Only the last two days did I realize how nice it will be to come home and not have homework, just go to work, do what I went to school for, and then come home," Wallace said.

Students also received an earful about the importance of bringing their skills to the world, but also back to the Virgin Islands, which needs their help to become a better territory, according to speakers Senate President Shawn-Michael Malone and V.I. Delegate to Congress Donna Christensen.

Music education major Erick Willie, 22, has every intention of doing just that. Willie, the first tuba player to graduate from UVI, according to the school, said he hopes to return to his home island of St. Croix and teach music in one of the secondary schools.

"I started playing tuba in my senior year in high school," said Willie, who was surprised when the entire UVI band played a short tune for him when he walked across the stage. "We needed more bass, so I started playing tuba and I fell in love."

Willie hopes to pass his passion on to other students looking for a creative outlet.

While University staff were quick to praise the class of 2014 - who they called incomparable, passionate and optimistic - they also reminded students of those who graduated from the university before them.

Hall honored Ruel Charles, an alumnus who graduated in the university's first graduating class in 1965. Additionally, the university honored the family members of the late David Payne Jr., who was shot and killed Sept. 7, 2012.

Payne, who received his bachelor's degree from UVI, would have graduated with his master's degree in education this year.

Instead, the university bestowed upon Payne's son, David Payne III, a cap and gown they said they hoped he would wear some day when he graduated in his father's footsteps from UVI.

"You can kill the dreamer, but you can't kill the dream," Hall said.

The university also presented a number of honorary degrees, first to Gates, who has received 52 honorary degrees and numerous prizes. His honorary degree from UVI is his first from a Caribbean institution, he said.

Additionally, the school honored Ron de Lugo, former V.I. Senator and the territory's first Congressional delegate, by presenting an honorary doctorate to his daughter, Angela de Lugo, who appeared on her father's behalf. Ron de Lugo was unable to attend the ceremony due to illness, Hall said.

More than 100 students also graduated from the University on Sunday on the St. Croix campus.

- Contact Jenny Kane at 714-9102 or email

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