By Emmanuel Freeman

NASHVILLE, TN (TSU News Service) — National political strategist and commentator Symone D. Sanders-Townsend Saturday inspired Tennessee State University graduates to be prepared for the unexpected as they pursue their career goals. Giving the fall commencement address as more than 600 received degrees in the Gentry Center Complex, the former senior advisor and chief spokesperson to Vice President Kamala Harris said life will not always go as planned. 

She left the graduates with three things she said helped her along the way. 

“Do not be focused on your plans that you are unwilling to consider the unexpected, find yourself, and fight for what you believe,” said Sanders, former CNN commentator and host of the new MSNBC program Symone. 

Before Sanders’ speech, TSU President Glenda Glover, in her opening remarks, congratulated the graduates and their parents and loved ones for their support. 

TSU President Glenda Glover, left, and commencement speaker Symone D. Sanders-Townsend, lead the graduation procession in the Gentry Center Complex. Photos by Aaron Grayson

“I applaud you for having reached such an extraordinary milestone,” Glover told the graduates. “This is your day. And we will make the most of it, for tomorrow you step into the world as the servant leaders you have been trained to be. The servant leaders you’ve been called to be.” 

Midway through the graduation, President Glover paused the ceremony to honor the memory of two Tigers who lost their lives shortly before graduation. Teisha Lashelle King, a business major and Amaya Victoria Taylor Sanders, a health science major, had completed the requirements for graduation. Dr. Glover awarded their degrees posthumously to their mothers. 

“This year unfortunately, we had two fallen Tigers, and we pause to honor their memories,” the President said, to rousing cheers from the crowd of parents and loved ones in the packed Gentry Center. 

“We will continue to hold them in our memory and prayers.” 

Sanders paid homage to Tennessee State University, a school she said has lived up to its founding mission to transform lives.

“From your cutting-edge STEM programs to your deep commitment to social justice, Tennessee State University is a school that the rest of the country can look to as a model for excellence,” pointing to the success of the school’s marching band, the Aristocrat of Bands, for getting two Grammy nominations. “For the first time in history, the heartbeat of HBCU culture has been recognized by the recording academy. The AOB was recognized this year for not one, but two Grammy nominations.” 

It was also an extra special day for Janeiar Noel. She got a surprise visit from her brother Navy Airman Julio J. Noel, dressed in his military outfit, who travelled from his San Diego, California naval base to congratulate his sister.   

The mother of three said obtaining her business administration degree, her brother’s surprised visit, and the commencement speaker’s inspiring message left her with the motivation to succeed. 

“I have kids who are looking up to me, and I need to set an example for them,” Janeiar said. “Life threw a lot of things at me, but I was able to persevere, and I am glad I could make my brother, my kids and my family proud.” 

Tyrell Jones, who earned a master’s in computer science, said he was able to pursue all of his passions. Jones also received his undergraduate degree in mathematics from TSU and was involved in student leadership and other activities. He said the speaker left him inspired.