Koren A. Bedeau, vice provost for Academic and Strategic Initiatives, embraces Andrew Kulasegram-Wilson, mechanical engineering '18, while presenting him with the award for Outstanding Undergraduate Student.
The third annual William S. Pittman Graduation Ceremony on Wednesday night was not a hold-your-applause-until-the-end type of event, and rightfully so.
The ceremony, held in Mandell Theater, brought together the 420 graduates of African descent from Drexel University’s class of 2018, as well as their families, friends and University leaders. A drum quartet ushered the procession of graduates both in and out of the ceremony, and featured a rousing keynote address from alumna Angela V. Harris, BS information systems ’02.
Executive Vice President and Nina Henderson Provost M. Brian Blake, PhD, kicked off the ceremony reminding graduates and guests of the Drexel grad for whom the annual celebration was named. William Sidney Pittman was the first African-American male graduate of what was then known as the Drexel Institute of Art, Science and Industry, having received a degree in architectural drawing in 1900. Pittman went on to become a highly noted and celebrated architect, having designed more than 50 buildings across the country, as well as an advocate for civil rights.
“As Drexel’s first African-American provost, I know he’s been, personally, a trailblazer for me,” Blake said.
Subir Sahu, PhD, vice president and dean of Student Life, also noted how much the event has grown since it was first held in 2016 through the vision and leadership of the Drexel Black Graduate Student Union. And though the fact that these graduates had made it through five years of exams, term papers, research presentations and sleepless nights, Subir said there was something else he wanted to recognize and celebrate that night.
“Being a student of color at Drexel still has some of the challenges of most predominately white institutions, as I think all of you would agree,” he said, drawing out unprompted applause from the audience. “For so many of our students, the struggles of academic study are coupled with the challenges of finding your voice in a community that does not look like you. Each one of you here today has worked hard to create better systems, structures and networks that help students find their home at Drexel. While there is much work to be done. This campus is a better place because of the tireless efforts of each one of you.”
Harris then took the stage, and in her keynote address opened up about the challenges she worked to overcome both as a student at Drexel, and currently as a minority woman in the tech industry. Harris, currently employed with Independence Blue Cross, also noted to the students that she regretted not remaining connected with the University directly upon graduation, though she now mentors many current Drexel students and has established a scholarship fund in her name to support African-American female students studying in the College of Computing and Informatics.
“Don’t turn your back on Drexel after you walk across the stage in June,” she said. “Networking is going to play a crucial role in navigating your career. The streets are watching. Networking is not about who you know, but who knows you.”
In her address, Harris also encouraged students to never forget three little words: dream, dare and do.
“Dream big, dare to be different, be scared and do it anyway,” she concluded. “With that, I’ll drop the mic.”
Koren A. Bedeau, PhD, vice provost for Academic and Strategic Initiatives, then took the stage to announce the winners of the Most Outstanding Student Awards, which recognize one undergraduate and one graduate student who excel in scholarship, leadership and in their willingness to contribute to the community. Winners had been nominated by their peers for the awards.
Andrew Kulasegram-Wilson, mechanical engineering ’18, was named the winner of the Mr. Stephen R. Cox Most Outstanding Undergraduate Student Award. Bedeau noted that those who nominated Kulasegram-Wilson commended his willingness to give back to fellow engineering students, as well as to the younger generation through tutoring and mentorship.
“I really do look at myself as a student leader and servant,” said Kulasegram-Wilson following the ceremony. “I want to be that kind of leader who gives back and doesn’t ask for anything in return. So it’s really nice to be recognized by my peers, be recognized by Dr. Cox and Provost Blake, who I look up to a great deal and actually aspire to be a provost one day.”
Kulasegram-Wilson stated he was glad that students in underrepresented communities were recognized by Drexel in this way, and also commended Blake and Subir for the changes they’ve made to better support minority students at the University.
“I think between them they really have brought to Drexel this kind of open-mindedness toward bringing in minorities and helping retain them,” he said. “A lot of the things going on within the minority communities, before [students] come to college, is that they don’t necessarily have the same advantages.”
Bonnie Johnson, who is graduating from the executive MBA program through the LeBow College of Business and received the Ms. Jasmine Y. Wright Most Outstanding Graduate Student Award during the ceremony, was also recognized for her work with disadvantaged communities through mission and non-profit work.
“I like to share the joy of the world with everyone I encounter and I like to improve conditions for those who need help,” she said. “I think it’s wonderful to recognize someone for a job well done. It’s also inspirational for the people who come behind me to have something to strive for.”