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Juniata Graduates Urged to Connect With a Higher Power

(Posted May 16, 2005)

Yolanda King gives a powerful speech at this year\'s commencement.

HUNTINGDON, Pa. -- Yolanda King, actress, motivational speaker and the daughter of Martin Luther King Jr. and Coretta Scott King, told Juniata students that there are blessings beyond material possessions available to all, if the assembled graduates are to "live the dream," as she delivered the commencement address at Juniata College's 127th commencement ceremony held today,
The graduating class of 303 students were awarded bachelor of arts (93) or bachelor of science degrees (210) at the ceremony presided over by Juniata College President Thomas R. Kepple Jr.
In addition, the college awarded an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to Betty Ann Cherry, professor emerita of history at Juniata. Cherry remains active in the Juniata and Huntingdon communities as coordinator of the college's Currents of the Juniata Valley project. She also is very active in the Church of the Brethren, acting as a moderator at the Stone Church of the Brethren and remaining active on the district and national level in ministry education. Cherry received the Beachley Award for Distinguished Academic Service in 1990 and received the Beachley Distinguished Professor Award in 1998. She started her academic career at Juniata in 1962 as an instructor. She was promoted to assistant professor in 1965, to associate professor in 1975, and to full professor in 1998.
"Life is not a race but a journey and today is a gift. That is why they call it the present," Ms. King said in her commencement address.
Ms. King illustrated her point that race, religion or socioeconomic status is not an impediment to success by telling a story about differently colored balloons. When a young boy asked why one color balloon might rise higher than some others, the boy received the answer, "It's not the color of the balloon, it's the stuff inside." Ms. King used the metaphor of "the stuff inside" to show the assembled graduates that they must attain three keys to their character: healthy love of self; love of others; and the ability to choose our destiny.
"As technology shrinks our world we seem less interested in reaching out to each other," she said. "Each of us can be a force for peace and love in the world. As Gandhi said, 'You must be the change you seek in the world.'"
Ms. King continued her speech saying, "Connecting with a higher power is the greatest expression of 'the stuff' that raises us higher as a people. The stuff inside is what keeps you exploring and you will have all the keys and power to open any door that blocks your path."
A 2005 Graduation Pledge of social and environmental responsibility was signed by more than 220 seniors, and the pledge states, "I pledge to explore and take into account the social and environmental consequences of any job I consider and will try to improve these aspects of any organizations for which I work." The 2005 Senior Class Gift is contributions to the placement of several benches at various locations around campus. About 65 percent of the class contributed to the gift.
King is an internationally renowned motivational speaker and actress whose recent book, "Open My Eyes, Open My Soul" outlines her fierce dedication to raise awareness and increase understanding about the importance of diversity.
King started her career as an actress and has maintained her performing career, appearing in films and television, as well as theatre. In addition to many stage roles, King has played Rosa Parks, the seamstress who memorably refused to move to the back of a Montgomery, Ala. bus, in the NBC movie "King." She also played Malcolm X's wife, Betty Shabazz in the film "Death of a Prophet" and Reena Evers, the daughter of assassinated civil rights leader Medgar Evers in the film "Ghosts of Mississippi."
Her most recent theatrical production is "Achieving the Dream," which chronicles many of the highlights of the civil rights movement. In addition to acting, King has established a thriving career as a motivational speaker and teacher. In 1990, she started Higher Ground Productions, an organization dedicated to guiding people to find greater inner peace, to celebrate diversity and to embrace unity.
She earned a bachelor's degree from Smith College in Northampton, Mass and went on to earn a master's degree in theatre from New York University. She established herself as a stage actress in New York during and after her graduate studies.
At the same time, she began accepting speaking engagements, eager to share a message on the importance of embracing diversity and our common humanity. She has spoken at many Fortune 500 corporations, religious and civic events, educational and professional conferences and at colleges and universities.
In conclusion, King pointed out "life is a trip, but it definitely is not a vacation."

Contact John Wall at wallj@juniata.edu or (814) 641-3132 for more information.