Former TSU linebacker Christion Abercrombie with (l to r) CBS national correspondent Michelle Miller, National Urban League President Marc Morial, TSU President Glenda Glover, and Frank Stevenson, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students at TSU. Photo by Michael Bennett

By Lucas Johnson

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service)  — Christion Abercrombie has not ceased to amaze. It was considered a miracle when the former Tennessee State University linebacker rapidly recovered from a severe brain injury and began taking online courses to complete his degree. On Saturday, Abercrombie inspired once again, as he walked across the stage to receive his diploma. 

“I feel very happy and blessed to be graduating with my undergraduate degree from TSU,” said Abercrombie. “I thank my parents, and everybody for their prayers and support.”

He was among more than 900 graduates and undergraduates who received degrees in various disciplines during Tennessee State University’s Spring Commencement ceremonies. Earlier this month, TSU officially announced the 2021 graduation exercises would return to campus and be held in Hale Stadium following a year of virtual ceremonies because of the pandemic. The graduate ceremony was held in the stadium on Friday. 

This year’s ceremonies were special because of in-person participation since the COVID-19 pandemic. But for Abercrombie and his family, there was added emotion because of all they endured before the pandemic. They received special recognition during the ceremony. 

“Christion was … not expected to live,” said Frank Stevenson, associate vice president of student affairs and dean of students. “Today, he is graduating, and God is good. We celebrate his life.” 

On Sept. 29, 2018, Abercrombie suffered his brain injury in a game against Vanderbilt. His recovery was questionable. But gradually, he began to make progress. And eventually, he was getting around like normal. He then sought to complete what he started by taking online courses. When Abercrombie got his degree on Saturday, his mother reiterated what she’s said all along, that her son is a miracle. 

“I knew that I would see this day,” said Staci Abercrombie. “However, I didn’t think it would come as soon as it did. So, I know that It’s all because of God.”

Staci Abercrombie said she’s grateful to TSU’s faculty and staff for accommodating her son while he finished his coursework. 

“Our family feels the favor of God, to be witnessing such a blessing. Each day is a gift and we give God all the praise,” she said.   

Christion’s father, Derrick, shared his wife’s sentiment about seeing their son receive his bachelor’s in interdisciplinary studies. 

“It’s a great accomplishment, for anybody really, but especially for him going through what he went through,” he said. “We feel really proud.” 

As she did in the graduate ceremony the day before, TSU President Glenda Glover congratulated the undergraduates on their accomplishments. 

“I applaud you for reaching this extraordinary milestone,” said Glover. “We salute you. We honor you.”

The keynote speaker for the ceremony was former New Orleans mayor and National Urban League President Marc Morial. His wife, CBS national correspondent Michelle Miller, spoke at the graduate commencement. Both were honored with plaques from President Glover. 

Throughout his speech Morial referenced “9 minutes and 29 seconds.” During the recent trial of the police officer charged with killing George Floyd, prosecutors said he knelt on Floyd’s neck for 9 minutes and 29 seconds, correcting the 8:46 timing that had become a symbol of police brutality. 

Morial asked the graduates to commit at least 9 minutes and 29 seconds each day to “make a difference.” 

“We all stand on the shoulders of others,” he said. “As you leave Tennessee State University, your shoulders are strong. Your brain is trained, let your heart be tuned, to make a difference in your life and the lives of others.” 

In her address on Friday, Miller told the graduates not to be disheartened by failure. She told them of the time she was fired from her second job, but that she bounced back and now has a successful career. 

“Failure is an option, because only through failure can you succeed,” said Miller. “My toughest times have taught me that I’m a survivor. So are you. You’ve done everything that you set out to do, because you’re here. You survived … an unpredictable year.”

Graduates said they enjoyed both speakers and were inspired by their messages. But what they all seemed most excited about was being able to gather in person for the ceremony.  

“This specific in-person commencement symbolizes all our graduating seniors who have worked relentlessly to stick to the course this past year in every aspect,” said Dominique Davis of Danville, Illinois. The former Student Government Association president received her degree in business administration. “This moment should be celebrated, and I am most grateful administrators have remained open-minded in the entirety of graduation planning,” she said.

Folusho E. Micah, who received his bachelor’s degree in biology with a concentration in cellular and molecular biology, said he feels blessed to be among those participating in an in-person graduation.

“To have spent the past four years working so hard toward this moment and it be virtual would have been a huge let down,” said Micah, of Nashville. “Being able to walk across the stage in my cap and gown makes all those sleepless nights feel worth it.”

Those attending the ceremonies were required to wear masks and practice social distancing. Adults were strongly encouraged to have been vaccinated.