“It is not your environment, it is you – the quality of your mind, the integrity of your soul and the determination of your will that will decide your future and shape your life.”

That quote from Dr. Benjamin E. Mays, one of the most influential alumni in South Carolina State University’s 126-year history, was used to motivate the more than 120 graduates participating in the university’s fall commencement exercises on Friday morning.

“I’m a believer, and I believe in you,” retired Lt. Gen. Bruce T. Crawford said.

Crawford was the featured speaker at the graduation ceremony held in the Smith-Hammond-Middleton Memorial Center. The U.S. Army’s former chief information officer, Crawford now serves as chief of innovation and director of the Global Digital Center of Excellence for Jacobs Solutions Inc.

Crawford used the quote from Mays, a pioneer in education and the civil rights movement who taught English at S.C. State, to encourage the graduates to forge ahead with self-confidence.

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He told the graduates that he believes in them just as someone believed in him so many years ago.

Crawford said he’s confident the graduates have the resilience, intellectual curiosity and willingness to take the risks needed to succeed in an uncertain future.

“That’s why I say and I feel that you are built for this. If you want to do well, then just give it your best,” Crawford said.

He urged the graduates who want to make a difference to have a passion and give their best to it.

A globalizing economy and the deterioration of what were “once acceptable truths” will understandably create anxiety, uncertainty and disappointment, Crawford said. But he focused on the unprecedented opportunities that still present themselves to the graduates.

“You were built for this. This is your time. Seize the moment. Make a difference. … I am so proud of the choices that you made. Don’t be afraid to bet on you. Be confident in who you are because you’ve earned the right to belong,” Crawford said.

A 1986 distinguished military graduate of S.C. State with a bachelor’s degree in electrical engineering, the Columbia native drew from his own personal experience in letting the graduates know how far he has come.

The son of a single mother who gave birth to him at 16, Crawford was raised by grandparents who could neither read nor write.

While the Lower Richland High School student was told he was not college material, he received support from Dr. Clarence Hill, a retired professor in the university’s School of Engineering Technology and Sciences.

Wiping tears away, Crawford said Hill helped him get into the only school that would accept him. It was institution that would help mold him into the man he became.

“I stand here, ladies and gentleman, as living proof that it can be done,” he said.

Honor graduate Michaela Ja’Net Hart, a music education major, said she knows something about overcoming challenges, too.

“To say the least, it took a long road to get here. I was discouraged last semester when I expected to get out in four years. So taking this extra semester really just allowed me to slow down and focus on getting out,” Hart said.

“It made me realize sometimes everything won’t happen on your own timeline, but it doesn’t always mean you made a mistake or anything, it just probably wasn’t your time. As far as my hopes for the future, I am focusing on preparing for graduate school, getting ready to start a career and just jump out there for new beginnings,” she said.

Her parents, Ted and Sheila Hart, said they are proud of their daughter’s achievement.

“She is an awesome student. She’s compassionate. She has the ability to do things and participate in things. Her teachers have always said she stands out because she’s always willing to help. She’ll do things without being asked,” Sheila said.

“That’s always good when a teacher will come up to you with no prompting and say, ‘You know what? You have such an awesome daughter.’ So I have high expectations of her. I know she has the ability to do things even though she may not believe it,” she said.

Ted said the legacy of S.C. State as an institution of higher learning cannot be understated.

“I think from a foundation standpoint, understanding the legacy of how this institution has launched so many careers in so many different walks of life – I mean generals in the military, I mean educators and inventors – it’s just amazing,” he said.

He continued, “I think it’s about her wanting to choose an HBCU to get that experience, but also understanding that there’s nowhere she can’t go. I think that’s the great part about it. You can’t forget that piece of it.”

Also during the ceremony, the university presented Crawford with an honorary degree of public service and conferred posthumous degrees to the following: Wanda Price, Ed.D; Barbara Williams, Ed.D and Bobby Eaddy, B.S., physical education.

Contact the writer: dgleaton@timesanddemocrat.com or 803-533-5534. Follow “Good News with Gleaton” on Twitter at @DionneTandD

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