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With little time left until First Lady Michelle Obama arrives to speak at Jackson State University’s graduation ceremonies, students on campus are thrilled about the event, even those who are not graduating.
“Everybody is excited about it,” JSU student Tiffany Lyon said. “Black universities really do not get much notification, but the fact that the president’s wife is coming here, that’s a big step for Jackson State.”
Graduating student Quenton Jones said he and other students have been making arrangements and getting tickets for their friends and family members in preparation for the event.
While preparing for his graduation has been hectic, Jones said the day will be memorable.
“It’s a big moment for a lot of graduates,” Jones said. “I know Michelle Obama is a big name. I know she’s going to have a lot of good things to say … on the future, things we can look forward to, things we could know as far as helping us be successful. I’m looking forward to it.”
Obama has made a point of speaking at the graduation ceremony of at least one historically black college or university each year since 2010, according to White House officials.
Jackson State was first contacted by White House officials to see if Michelle Obama speaking at their graduation ceremony was something they would be interested in.
“(Jackson State University President Carolyn W. Meyers) immediately said ‘yes’,” said Elayne Hayes-Anthony, director of the university’s Department of Mass Communications. “This would be wonderful for our graduates (and) for the community … We’re just glad that we were chosen.”
Electronic billboards are advertising the commencement and signs reminding seniors to pick up their graduation tickets are posted around the campus’s student center.
Jackson State graduations usually take place at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium, but a twist is that Saturday’s ceremony is a ticketed event, Anthony said.
Each graduating student gets one ticket for themselves and 15 tickets for family and friends, while non-graduating students, faculty and staff are limited to two commencement tickets due to limited seating and the demand from those hoping to hear the First Lady.
For those unable to attend, both undergraduate and graduate commencement ceremonies can also be viewed at new.livestream.com/jacksonstateu.
While Anthony said she did not want to reveal details on the graduation’s logistics, she expects about 55,000 people to attend the event. Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium seats nearly 60,000 people, she said.
Lyon is not graduating this year, but had hoped to attend the event with family from Pontotoc. But their plans changed when they could only get two tickets.
Other changes prompted by the visit: the commencement date was moved up from April 30, and the commencement time was changed from 10: 30 a.m. to 3 p.m. to fit the First Lady’s schedule.
Anthony said she hopes Obama’s speech will encourage students’ goals in life and how their education will assist them.
“I’m sure the First Lady of the United States will leave the students with tools they need to go out and be successful,” Anthony said. “She is certainly a person to emulate, and I think that will go far in the message she gives the students.”
Jianjun Yin, a professor at Jackson State’s Department of Elementary and Early Childhood Education, said he also thinks graduates will be inspired by Obama’s speech.
“She is the example for African American youth … who have high aspirations” Yin said.
Yujing Nie, who is graduating, said he is honored to have the chance to see the First Lady before he goes back home to China.
“I’m very lucky to have this chance to see the First Lady before I leave,” Nie said. “I’m so excited.”
Jones said it means a lot to him that the Obama is making an effort to speak at historically black colleges and universities.
“It means we’re not forgotten,” he said. “They know we’re here and that we’re a big part of society … (The White House) is looking forward to what we can do in our communities.”
Those attending the ceremony are asked to arrive at 1 p.m., when Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium opens.