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Inclusive Excellence Awards recognize achievements of students of color

Published on May 12, 2021

Inclusive Excellence Awards recognize achievements of students of color

Keynote speaker David Jones ’04 speaks to equality

Eastern Alumni David Jones '04 serves as Keynote Speaker.
Eastern Alumni David Jones '04 served as the event's Keynote Speaker.

Eastern Connecticut State University held its Eighth Annual Inclusive Excellence Student Awards Ceremony on May 6. The ceremony honors the academic achievements of African, Latino, Asian and Native American students, and also presents 11 special awards to students who have demonstrated excellence in community, volunteering, social justice and more.

The keynote speaker for the evening was David Jones ’04, who is the chief diversity officer and director of talent management at William Paterson University.

Presented in a hybrid model — with on-ground and virtual components — the ceremony began with an introduction from Opportunity Program Specialist Maribel Sanchez and a prerecorded welcome video from President Elsa Nunez. “Today we are celebrating the academic achievements of students of color on this campus,” said Nunez. “This year’s ceremony honored 312 students who have a GPA of 3.5 or higher, which is a 15 percent increase from the last two ceremonies. This is a stunning achievement; congratulations to each of the students.

“Why are we hosting this event? The reality is that students of color, especially African American and Latino students, are underrepresented on college campuses and have college rates below those of white students,” said Nunez. “Saluting the academic achievements of students of color today and the contributions they are making to enrich the cultural diversity of this campus, is not only a way to congratulate the students, but is also a message to everyone on our campus and beyond that we are proud of the achievements and contributions of today’s awardees.”

The evening continued with comments from Associate Provost and Vice President for Equity and Diversity Stacey Close. “First I want to give a heartfelt congratulations to all of our students recognized today. You have persevered and excelled, and I know a number of you will be graduating in a week or so; your presence will be missed at Eastern. For those who are returning, the university looks forward to your continued excellence in the classroom and in extracurricular activities.”

Keynote speaker Jones began his speech by commending students for achieving academic greatness despite the pandemic and racial injustice. “You are the leaders our society so desperately needs, and it is reassuring that our future lies in the hands of accomplished young leaders like each of you.”

Jones shared his Eastern experiences after enrolling in 1999 as a communication major and sociology minor. “I’ll admit I didn’t stay on campus a lot my first year at Eastern. I went home a lot on weekends, as I found the transition from high school to college challenging,” said Jones. “But as I will share with you, significant people and organizations played a role in my experience at Eastern that allowed me to call Eastern home after settling into college.”

Jones thanked the late Eastern president David Carter, Vice President of Student Affairs Walter Diaz and the M.A.L.E.S. (Men Achieving Leadership, Excellence and Success) student organization for their role in helping him transition to college. “Dr. Carter taught me and so many others the importance and value of hard work. As a Black president at a predominately white university, Dr. Carter embodied the leadership persona and characteristics many students, particularly men of color, would want to emulate,” said Jones. “Walter saw potential in me before I could even see it in myself. He exposed me to internship opportunities and helped me find my passion for higher education. My career success is much attributed to his mentoring early on, which gave me the focus I needed to succeed. M.A.L.E.S. provided a brotherhood, support for academic and professional excellence and a safe space for Black men and other men of color.

“These two people and one organization are very important to me, and provided me with truly transformational experiences that continue to impact me today, nearly two decades later. They recognized my potential and guided me to achieve beyond measure and helped me discover my confidence and determination, become resilient and equipped me with the tools to persevere, and find my passion,” said Jones. “They taught me to be courageous, curious, creative, but also brave and vulnerable.”

Jones then talked about the racial violence and injustice that continues to plague the United States. “Black people have experienced racial violence and police brutality from Emmett Till to Breonna Taylor, George Floyd and Ma’Khia Bryant . . . when will Black lives matter enough when their lives are not taken because the color of their skin is seen as a weapon and a threat to America?”

He then urged students to help end injustice. “The cycle of racism continues, and it is up to change agents like yourself to speak up and speak out to these injustices to change the narrative.”

Jones ended his speech by saying, “Be the light for a world where regardless of your identity, you are accepted, affirmed, validated and seen with human dignity and worth… As young leaders committed to justice, be the voice for the voiceless, speak up at the tables you sit at and work toward justice and unity, so we no longer have to live in a society where people who may look like you are not victimized, killed or bullied because of the color of their skin or any other marginalized identity they hold.”

Written by Bobbi Brown