Graduation speaker gives encouragement for the future

Families gathered for the graduation ceremony in Flowers Hall May 13 as a student from the past gave graduating seniors hope for the future.

The 2017 commencement speaker was Wendell Wilkie Gunn, the first African-American student to enroll in 1963 at Florence State Teachers College, which is currently UNA. 

Since his graduation, Gunn went on to found his own company, Gunn Solutions, and serve as an assistant for policy development under President Ronald Reagan.

In addition to speaking at graduation, Gunn was also presented with an honorary doctorate degree from UNA.

Gunn said the board of trustees asking him to speak at graduation was an honor, but he felt his story was an encouragement for graduates rather than an honor of his accomplishments.

“Maybe the board of trustees thought what I did with my UNA degree is a good example of what you might do with your UNA degree,” Gunn said.

Gunn said when he first enrolled at Florence State Teachers College, there was virtually no backlash. Upon his arrival at UNA to speak at graduation, he said he was proud to see the campus unaffected by disputes about race relations occurring throughout the country

“This is my UNA,” Gunn said. “This is the UNA that I love.”

Gunn said he wants to see a UNA community built through graduates helping each other succeed. At the end of his speech, he challenged all graduates to contact another UNA alumnus and ask for career help.

Gunn encouraged the graduates to never stop learning and bettering themselves.

“Commit yourself to your goals and commit yourself to your relationships,” Gunn said. “You will get knocked down, but learn how to get up. It is all about finding a way.”