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More than 700 graduates were honored as Delaware State University held its first-ever Virtual Commencement Ceremony.
In this photo: More than 700 graduates were honored as Delaware State University held its first-ever Virtual Commencement Ceremony.
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University holds historic Virtual Commencement

Saturday, May 16, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic could not stop the celebration of the Class of 2020, as Delaware State University honored them with a historic May 16 Virtual Commencement Ceremony.

Streamed online, the University recognized the completion of 700 bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees, making this year’s ceremony the largest May Commencement graduating class.

University President Tony Allen began his welcome remarks by talking about the “power of presence.”

“The true health of our nation physically, emotionally, spiritually and socially depends on our ability to be present with one another,” Dr. Allen said. “The Delaware State University degree I will confer on you today is… also a reminder that you are now, and always, ever present with us. That you are a part of something that requires you to connect with people in a meaningful way and understand their hopes and dreams, so that they can do the same for you.”

Dr. Allen noted that after successfully making it through the required coursework, it seemed like the traditional spring outdoor commencement was just around the corner. But then the Coronavirus pandemic hit, irreversibly changing how the last semester would be completed.

“But still that did not stop you from finishing all your courses online, even though some of you had to sit up all night after working to feed your families, typing essays letter by letter on your cell phones,” the University President said. “You were present again.”

The Commencement keynote speaker Ukee Washington, co-anchor of CBS3, told the graduates regardless of what is going on in the world right now, this special day is their time.

“You, the Class of 2020, are a major part of the healing process, and it starts with this day, which will always be a glorious day,” Mr. Washington said. “You have a long way to go, and I want you to enjoy the ride – because you will point to your days at Delaware State University as the foundation of the success in your life you are destined to achieve.

He noted that Nelson Mandela said that education is most powerful thing to change the world.

“It is now your turn to change the world,” said Mr. Washington, who is the son of the late Dr. U.S. Washington, a longtime and revered head of the Del State Agriculture and Natural Resources Department. “The future is now in your capable hands.”

This spring’s graduating class produced 236 honor students – surpassing the previous record of 218 set in May 2018. This year’s honors class included 60 Summa Cum Laudes (3.75 GPA or above), 70 Magna Cum Laudes (3.5 to 3.74), 69 Cum Laudes (3.25 to 3.49) and 37 honorable mentions (transfer students with 60 or more credits and maintained a 3.5 GPA or above).

Dr. Allen presented Presidential Academic Excellence Awards to seven graduates – tying the Commencement record set during the May 2018 ceremony – all of whom maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout their undergraduate years. The recipients were:

Juan Chavez Reynaga, a Psychology major with a minor in Biological Sciences. He is also a member of the first graduating class of Dreamers.

Brynn L. Dao, a Criminal Justice major from Dover, Del.

Alyssa D. Gregor, a Social Work major from Dover, Del.

Lily W. Lofton, an Agriculture major from Heth, Ark.

Boaz Menard, a Management Information Systems major with a minor in Computer Science from Smyrna, Del.

Luil M Menberu, a Physics Engineering major from Washington, D.C.

Lindsey C. Steele, a Food and Nutritional Sciences major from Frederica, Del.

To learn more about the 2020 4.0 students, click on the following article link: https://www.desu.edu/news/2020/05/2020-commencement-celebrates-seven-40-scholars

Dr. Allen also presented the Presidential Leadership Award to Kyla C. Bonelli, an English major from Dover, Del. During her academic journey, Ms. Bonelli served as the recording secretary for the Student Government Association, the Junior Class Board vice president and treasurer, recording secretary of the Hornet Activities Committee, as a Hornet Ambassador, as well as a member of the Honors Student Association, Fairy God Sisters and the Curls and Coil Hair Care Association. She also maintained a cumulative 3.74 GPA.

To read more about Ms. Bonelli, click on the following article link: https://www.desu.edu/news/2020/05/kyla-bonelli-receives-presidential-leadership-award

The University President also conferred an Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters to Donald Graham, the chairman of the Graham Holding Company and the founder of the TheDream.US, the latter of which awards Opportunity Scholarships to undocumented students, known at Dreamers. Through that scholarship program, more than 150 Dreamers have enrolled at the University since 2016 – with the first class of 28 students graduating during the 2020 Virtual May Commencement.

To learn more about the story of the Dreamers at Del State, click on the following article link: https://www.desu.edu/news/2020/05/1st-dreamer-class-graduates

During the Virtual Commencement, the graduates received kudos, advice and encouragement from many quarters of the country, including Gov. John Carney, the entire Delaware Congressional Delegation, as well as nationally prominent performers, attorneys and activists.

Below are some of their remarks.

Joseph R. Biden, former U.S. vice president and currently the presumptive Democratic nominee for president:

“Hello Class of 2020! Let me start by saying that I am speaking to the best HBCU in the United States of America – Del State University. Look, you’re always gonna be #1 in my book. You brought me to the dance. And Dr. Tony Allen, thank you for inviting me to participate in today’s celebration. I last spoke at this ceremony graduation in 2016.

I know these are difficult times for all of us, and for any of you who might’ve lost loved ones to this pandemic, or have family members working in essential jobs, putting themselves at risk – know that I’m thinking about you.

But here’s what else I know: we’re gonna get through this. We’re going to need the passion, integrity and the skill that all of you have to offer to help rebuild and transform this country.

I’m looking forward to all of you becoming leaders, educators, health care professionals, entrepreneurs, researchers, artists here in Delaware. Many of you will be responsible for developing new technologies and new ways of engagement as a result of the education, support and guidance you’ve received over the last four years. Some of you will redefine what it means to be a global citizen and lead the way in uniting people regardless of age, gender, race or zip code.

We have a real opportunity to come out of this crisis stronger than we’ve ever been. And Class of 2020, you’re going to play a big part in that.

So congratulations again! I can’t wait to see what you all accomplish. We need you.

And congratulations to your parents, your grandparents, your benefactors. You’ve made them proud.”


Dr. Devona Williams, the Chairperson of the University Board of Trustees

“To the governor of this great State of Delaware, our legislators, alumni, friends and supporters, and most of all, the Class of 2020, I bring you greetings on behalf of the Board of Trustees of Delaware State University. I greet you with the warmest of thoughts, prayers, and congratulatory virtual hugs.

An author by the name of Og Mandino once said, “I love the light, for it shows me the way. Yet I can endure the darkness, for it will show me to the stars.”

As I come before you today, I can only visualize our stadium filled to capacity with friends and family of our graduates. I can only imagine the balloons, flowers, posters, and our smiling graduates as they wave proudly to their families and friends. I say I can only imagine it, because as Dr. Allen has said, this is the first time in the history of Delaware State University that we are having a Virtual Commencement gradation. I would have never imagined that in my wildest dreams.

But today we celebrate the academics, we are not going to talk about the pandemic. We have earned the right to celebrate life, to celebrate success, to celebrate hard work and perseverance. Today we celebrate our Delaware State University students and their academic achievements, numbering over 700 students who graduate today.

Each graduation I look forward to personally greeting each graduate on stage with a handshake, a smile or a hug. Please know this year, I will give that to you virtually.

In closing, I’d like to leave with a quote: “Life isn’t about waiting for a storm to pass. It’s about dancing in the rain.” So let’s dance! Congratulations.”


Gov. John Carney

“We are experiencing a unique and challenging situation in our State, across the country, and throughout the world. It is certainly changing the way we do things, and it is providing different memories than the ones we expected.

But as we all know, Hornets rise! Hornets rise to new challenges, to new discoveries and to new solutions. For 129 years, Delaware State University has provided a pathway for Delaware students to get a world-class education, then stay right here in Delaware to contribute to our success as a State. And I am confident that the Class of 2020 will be one of the most resilient graduating class in the University’s history, thanks to your education and training.

Though we are celebrating this milestone virtually, let’s not forget the importance of today. The good news is that you leaving here today armed with the skills you’ll need to success, and the experience and knowledge you’ve gain through your time at Delaware State will help you navigate through this new normal. We’ve never needed more problem solvers and innovators than we do now.”


Congresswoman Lisa Blunt Rochester

“We know that we are going through a challenging time in our country and our history, and we need you more than ever.

Those of you that know me, know I love Beyoncé. So I just want to put together a quick salute, a couple of words that encapsulate this moment and what we want to see from you.

So, to the Class of 2020, before you let go of DSU, know that you have received a flawless education. But the world needs to know you were here. So it is time to get in formation, keep love on top, and keep shining, shining, shining, shining, yeah! Because now, you run the world!”


U.S. Sen. Chris Coons

“To the graduating Class of 2020, congratulations! Today is the day of great accomplishments, worthy of celebration.

“Just think back on the thousands of hours of studying, of work and preparation, and now of accomplishment that has brought you to this moment. I just want to thank you for your heart, for your dedication, and for your determination, and today for your accomplishment. Please take a moment and make sure you thank your family and friends from home and on campus, who have inspired you, who’ve instructed you and who’ve helped you grow into the new person you are today as you leave the campus of Delaware State University.

“These are unusual and challenging times. We need your heart and contributions more than ever. And I just want you to leave today knowing that I, like so many others in the State of Delaware, are excited to see your future. Congratulations to the Delaware State Class of 2020. Hornets R”“ising!


U.S. Senator Tom Carper

“It has been my privilege to speak at Delaware State University graduation for over 25 years. I love Delaware State and I am proud of all of you. I graduated from Ohio State University in 1968, and it was at the height of the Vietnam war, violence on campus, violence in the streets, murder and mayhem across the country, and the country badly divided. And we got through all of that and became strong again and vibrant again. And we will get through what we are going through today.

“I would just ask that you keep in mind four pieces of advice as you go forward from this day:

“Aim high…Work hard…Embrace the Golden Rule…Don’t quit.

“Do those things and you will do just fine. Congratulations. Hornets Rising!”


Angela Rye, influential politico, lawyer and advocate

“What’s up Delaware State University! I am so proud of you all, Class of 2020. You have overcome so much to get to this moment. We are watching you and we are so proud of you. We are cheering for you from afar, because you’ve got to be socially distant.

“But know that if you are able to take on a moment like this, if you are able to overcome in a situation like this Coronavirus, that is keeping us apart and putting such a damper on your graduation ceremony, what I want you to know is if you can handle this, you can handle anything.

“We believe in you, we know that some of you are first-time students, first-time graduates, and that some of you may even become the breadwinner for your own families. We support you, we got you, we are right here with you. And when we get on the other side of this, we’ve got hugs and love for you. Thank you so much for what you are doing. Thank you so much for what you are about to do. Congratulation, Class of 2020.


Bryan Stevenson, founder and executive director of the Equal Justice Initiative, as well as the basis for the movie Just Mercy.

“As a little boy I grew up in Southern Delaware, who would occasionally go to Delaware State, which seemed to be filled with smart, talented and beautiful people who were magical. Well Delaware State is still that type of institution, and it is still filled with smart, talented and beautiful people. And I am so excited to congratulate each and every one of you for what you have achieved by graduating from this remarkable place. I am honored to have family members who are alums of Delaware State who are trying to change the world.

“And I just want to say to you that even though we can’t be together physically, I hope we will come together in recognizing the importance of this moment. This pandemic has exposed profound unjust inequalities all around us in our communities, in out states, in our nation. There is a need for things to change, and I hope each and every one of you will find ways to be part of that change.

“I want to celebrate what you have achieved; you have done something really remarkable. But I also want to encourage you to believe that we can and will change the world, create more justice, create more hope, create more opportunity.

“Congratulations, Class of 2020! Know that I will be cheering and rooting for you as you make your journey and change the world.”


Dr. Saundra DeLauder, interim University Provost

“While each graduating class is special to the Hornet Nation, the Class of 2020 will forever be remembered for the courage and perseverance displayed during the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“During your tenure at Delaware State University, you have learned its core values – Scholarship, Diversity, Outreach, Integrity and Community. But these values took on an even greater importance during the spring semester of 2020. Our most important lesson to learn through this pandemic has been the importance of creating those safe spaces where we can speak with candor and see each other as human beings first, rather than the role of faculty, student and administrator.

“Do know that we will always be community. We share a common vision and a common destiny. It is time for you to go forth and serve your respective communities, in your respective areas of expertise. On behalf of the more than 200 faculty, staff and administrators that comprise the Division of Academic Affairs, I extend our collective heartfelt congratulations on the completion of your degree requirements. We are proud of your accomplishments and wish you the best in all your future endeavors. Peace and blessing.”


Dr. Harry L. Williams, president and CEO of the Thurgood Marshall College Fund, president of Delaware State University (2010-2017)

“Congratulations Class of 2020! You have earned the right to be here, and we are so proud of you.

“We know that these are some difficult times, but we will get through this, and you will do well. I know that your Delaware State University degree will open up doors and will provide you with opportunities that will help you and your families for many years to come. I am so proud of all of you. Congratulations.”


Erykah Badu, singer/songwriter, record producer and actress

“Delaware State University Class of 2020. You did it. Ya’ll the ones we been waiting on. Ya’ll the one.”


Vanessa Williams, actress, singer, Broadway star, author and designer.

“Congratulations, Class of 2020. You’ve got a lifetime ahead of you in these really uncertain times. So my message to you as you start off in your life is to always know who you are. First impressions mean a lot. So feel that you are grounded, know that you have a goal in life, and that is to realize your dreams. Follow your skill set. What are you good at? And what you are good at, get better and better at. Because that is what is going to open doors for you. So dare to be different, don’t be afraid to have adventure, and don’t be afraid to be yourself. Go get it, and congratulations.”


Method Man, rap artist and actor

“I just want to say congratulations to the Delaware State University Class of 2020. The best advice anyone ever gave me is, if you are the smartest person in the room, it’s time to find another room. Life is all about growth, and if you can’t learn new things, you stay stagnant.

“Congratulations ya’ll.”


Tina Knowles Lawson, designer/influencer

“Guys, you made it! You did it, you put in the work. And here you are, about to embark on a successful and prosperous career.

“I just want to give you one word of advice, and it comes from my husband. He always says that ‘if everybody on your bus is not headed the same place you are, and you have haters on your bus, throw them off.’ Surround yourself with positive people with similar goals that really want to see you do well. Always remember where you came from. Always give back; that is the key to true success. Have a great and prosperous life.”