Jacksonville, Florida – May 14, 2024 – Amidst the grandeur of the Jacksonville Performing Arts Center, a monumental event unfolded on Saturday, May 11, as Edward Waters University proudly hosted its 2024 Commencement Ceremony. This year marked a significant milestone in the annals of the institution, as it bore witness to the largest graduating class in its storied history. Guided by the visionary leadership of President and CEO A. Zachary Faison Jr., J.D., 132 scholars, accompanied by four valedictorians, stepped into the threshold of their futures.

A palpable sense of anticipation filled the expansive venue as families and friends converged to celebrate the remarkable achievements of the graduating cohort. The air buzzed with excitement, punctuated by moments of unexpected delight throughout the ceremony. Noteworthy among these surprises were the conferral of three honorary degrees to Senator Tracie Davis (’94), Councilman Samuel C. Newby (’84), the late Bishop McKinley Young and the bestowal of two Faculty Eminence Awards for Research and Scholarship to Dr. Kyo Kyung Woo and Dr. Jacquelyn Welch. However, the pinnacle of astonishment was reached with a surprise video address from none other than United States Vice President Kamala Harris, followed by a captivating performance by Jacksonville artist Lil Duval.

In her heartfelt message, Vice President Harris extended her sincerest congratulations to the Class of 2024, underscoring the nation’s collective pride in welcoming the newest cohort of Tiger Scholars. Drawing from her own journey, she emphasized the enduring value of the relationships forged during their tenure at EWU, asserting that these bonds would serve as steadfast companions in the journey ahead. She urged the graduates to embrace their chosen paths with impassioned fervor, reminding them of their indispensable role in shaping a brighter tomorrow.

“As you set out on the next chapter of your life, remember there is no obstacle you cannot overcome,” Harris said.

“There is no barrier you cannot break, and there is no limit to your capacity for greatness. And wherever you go, please always remember everyone you see today; we’re all going to be with you, cheering you on. So congratulations on this tremendous achievement. I am so very proud of you.”

As an alumna of an HBCU herself, Vice President Harris eloquently articulated the transformative power of institutions like Edward Waters University, instilling in the graduates an unwavering belief in their boundless potential. 

Taking the stage as the keynote speaker, Florida Senator Tracie Davis, an esteemed alumna of EWU, imparted poignant reflections on the profound impact of her alma mater. 

“As I was preparing for this day, I realized how overwhelming this is because it is a full circle moment as an alum and as your commencement speaker, I just have to say to you all, I’m home,” Davis said. “I cannot believe I am home.”

In an emotional speech, she recounted her personal and professional odyssey, crediting EWU with nurturing the foundational pillars of her success. Reflecting on the shared journey of HBCU camaraderie, Senator Davis paid homage to the faculty members whose unwavering dedication had propelled her toward excellence. She fondly reminisced about her cherished affiliation with the Alpha Kappa Alpha sorority, a testament to the enduring legacy of sisterhood forged on the hallowed grounds of EWU.

Senator Davis’s journey to EWU was not without its apprehensions, yet guided by maternal wisdom, she embraced the transformative potential of the institution. Now, standing before a new generation of graduates, she epitomized the cyclical nature of legacy, embodying the spirit of advocacy and empowerment that defines the EWU community.

“My foundation was formed here walking through the Halls of Hatcher-Stewart, my confidence was strengthened by the mandatory Chapel meetings, I formed lifelong friendships and relationships hanging out in the student union, and I will be so truthful to say the only reason I went to the library was because I had a class there,” said Davis. “Attending Edward Waters University was a dream of my mothers. A dream I made come true for her when I graduated Magna Cum Laude from Edward Waters College, at the time, class of 1994. I am a proud EWU Tiger, and I am a proud HBCU grad.”

As each graduate ascended the stage to receive their hard-earned degrees, they were enveloped in a symphony of cheers and applause, a resounding tribute to their perseverance and dedication. With prideful smiles adorning their faces, they embarked upon the next chapter of their journey, buoyed by the timeless admonition to walk in the light of Emerging Eminence.

In a final gesture of benediction, President Faison bid farewell to the graduating class of 2024, offering heartfelt wishes for their continued success and fulfillment. And as the echoes of applause faded into the ether, a new generation of leaders emerged, poised to leave an indelible mark on the world.

“To my dear Tiger Scholars, this very special, resilient, enduring, and persevering class, you have run the great race. You have finished this course. Even in a global pandemic, it didn’t stop you from getting to this moment,” said Faison. “The last words I will speak to you as a graduating class come as follows: Yes, you are now distinguished graduates of Edward Waters University, but your journey, my tiger scholars, has truly only just begun.”