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VSU set to have five guest speakers for spring 2021 commencement

On May 7 and 8, VSU will have five guest speakers at the commencement who are healthcare workers to honor frontline workers during the COVID-19 pandemic.

John Crawford, vice president for university advancement, says the five speakers are VSU graduates.

One of the speakers are psychiatric nurse practitioner Nishben Patel, who received her master’s degree at VSU in 2018 and has recently been accepted into VSU’s Doctor of Nursing Practice program.

The second speaker is cardiac surgeon Dr. Joe Johnson, who graduated from VSU and received his MD at the Medical College of Georgia.

The third speaker is Dr. Jared Harris, who graduated from VSU and received his MD at Howard University Medical School.

The fourth speaker is registered nurse Kamari Logan, who graduated from VSU’s nursing program in 2020.

The fifth speaker is Matthew Izzo, who graduated from VSU in 2017 and is a commissioned officer for the U.S. Army Reserves. Izzo volunteered in New York City during the height of the pandemic for six weeks.

“They were chosen because they are healthcare heroes and VSU graduates,” Crawford said. “It’s a way for us to honor their service during the pandemic, and it’s also a way for them to speak to our graduates.”

Because the healthcare and frontline workers have had a special role during the pandemic, VSU hopes the speakers will be able to inspire the graduates, according to Crawford.

“We also think it is really cool that all five of these students are VSU graduates, so they have sat right where our graduates have been sitting on the seventh and eigth of May,” Crawford said. “We are hopeful that their stories will be inspiring and that the students will see that VSU graduates have played a really important and critical roll throughout the pandemic.”

Crawford said the speakers will be recorded on video to be shown at commencement to ensure safety and protocols, similar to the fall 2020 commencement.

The recording will be edited to bounce from speaker to speaker and will be around 12 minutes long, according to Crawford.

Normally, the commencement committee recommends an individual to the president from a robust list of acceptable speakers. The president then gets input from the senior leadership of the institution and the speaker is selected.

However, due to COVID-19, the selection process has been different and brought new challenges.

“This time, a staff member of mine, said ‘You know what would be really cool in May . . . what if we highlighted some VSU graduates who were healthcare heroes that did some special work in the pandemic,’” Crawford said. “We ran that by the president, the president ran that by the cabinet and everybody agreed that was a pretty nice thing to do.”

According to Crawford, VSU suspects to go back to the list for the fall 2021 commencement and invite the initial speaker from the spring 2020 commencement before it went virtual.

“The list is revisited every year or two to make sure it is up to date,” Crawford said.

The commencement will take place at the football field, but VSU hopes to return to the front lawn for the commencement in fall 2021.

Written by Jonnie Brewer, Assistant Copy editor. Photo Courtesy of Bailey Storey.

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