The Durham, NC University awarded graduate and professional degrees to more than 400 students on Friday, May 10, in ceremonies at McDougald–McLendon Gymnasium. In a spirited commencement address, Johnnie C. Taylor Jr., president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, urged the graduates to take charge of their careers, and he provided some personal perspective and specific tips on how to do so.
“After you graduate should be when you really start learning,” he said. “You must become an expert in your chosen profession.” An essential part of career management, he said, is to find mentors who can provide guidance and advice, and, just as important, a sponsor — the person in a position to make promotions and advancement happen. “You should review your career annually,” he said. “You need to ask, ‘Is this still working for me?’ If it’s not, you need to develop a plan. There’s nothing wrong with moving on.”
Taylor is an attorney by training who worked in the private sector for many years as an executive and counsel before joining the Thurgood Marshall College Fund in 2010. The fund is a philanthropic organization that raises tuition and scholarship money for students attending public historically black universities, medical schools and law schools throughout the United States. Named for the late Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, the first African-American to serve on the high court (1967-91), the fund has awarded more than $200 million in scholarships and other support since its founding in 1987.
Taylor concluded by urging the graduates to “avoid the ‘isms’ ” — racism, sexism and all other forms of discrimination. “Someone in this life will discriminate against you,” he said. “Succeed in spite of it. Discrimination exists, just as gravity exists. But in spite of gravity, planes take off and trees grow. Gravity is omnipresent, but it’s not omnipotent.”
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