LOWER OXFORD — The man who inspired the Will Smith movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” and rose out of the depths of poverty and homelessness, urged graduates of The Lincoln University on Friday morning to seek the strength in their spirits and find success.
Christopher Gardner, who is now an entrepreneur, motivational speaker, philanthropist and single parent, did what he had to in order to raise his son and succeed in life — even if it meant sleeping in a subway bathroom, spending time in homeless shelters and making false starts in the business world while penniless.
Both Gardner and Tjama Tjivikua, a Lincoln graduate and founding rector of Polytechnic of Namibia, were presented with honorary degrees of humane letters.
Gardner’s tenacity helped him climb the financial industry ladder, working at various investment firms. In 1987, he founded his own brokerage firm, “Gardner Rich & Co.”
Gardner told the class of 2013 to appreciate the people who made a difference in their lives.
“There’s someone who saw something in you — somebody who went without something so you could attend this institution. . . .Go see them. Don’t text them or Instagram them. Go see them,” he said.
He stressed that people inspired the students were not at all likely to be famous celebrities, actors or athletes. “It was someone who said, ‘Walk the walk,’ and told you want to do and what to look out for,” he said.
Gardner advised the class members to connect with their passions — to be bold enough to do something they are passionate about.
He said also to plan — have a Plan A and stick to it, and reach high. He said Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jordan and Barack Obama aimed and achieved Plan A, not Plan B. “Plan B sucks,” he added.
Tjivikua has been a driver of social and economic transformation of that African country and established several centers for progress there. He holds degrees in chemistry, and taught at Lincoln from 1990 to 1995.
Class Valedictorian Yasmin M. Ismail received hearty applause from his classmates as she reiterated the Class of 2013 nickname: “Triumphant 2013.”
She said everyone has obstacles to overcome, but that everyone also quality within to triumph, even if it meant struggling.
More than 500 students received undergraduate and graduate degrees at The Lincoln University’s 154th commencement. It was the first commencement held in the school’s new stadium and was carried out under sunny skies and warm temperatures. The graduates appeared overwhelmingly happy and appreciative of the ceremony.
Several students talked about their fondest memories of having attended The Lincoln University. Lois Roanne of Wilmington said becoming a senior made her feel as if the friends she made would be friends for life.
Angelica Harris of Philadelphia said she will always remember the Sunday afternoons when she and her classmates got together and cooked Sunday dinners.
Brittany Outtene of Bensalem said she “found herself”as a business management major at the school.
Tim Memphis said he appreciated having met students from many different places.
The Lincoln University is located along Old Baltimore Pike just outside of Oxford. It is the nation’s first degree-granting historically black college and university, and has produced well known graduates including Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall, poet Langston Hughes, Nigerian President Nnamdi Azikiwe and Ghana President Kwame Nkrumah,