Honorary degree recipients and $1 million donor for the University’s new African art museum also honored
LINCOLN UNIVERSITY, PA – The Pursuit of Happyness’ Christopher P. Gardner advised the more than 500 graduates that regardless of their initial circumstances to be passionate, prepared and committed to their “Plan A” while working toward their goals in his keynote address at the 154th Commencement of The Lincoln University, the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU).
Gardner, whose 2006 autobiography, The Pursuit of Happyness, chronicled a series of adverse circumstances that left him and his toddler son homeless in San Francisco, while he struggled to pursue a career as a stockbroker during the early 1980s.
“The spirit of who you are to become as a man or a woman, I believe, you can choose,” said Gardner referring to what he termed “spiritual genetics.” “That same spirit can (also) be beaten down into darkness.”
Refusing to abandon his son or his dreams, the tenacious Gardner, himself, climbed the financial industry ladder from the very bottom. He worked at Dean Witter Reynolds and Bear Stearns & Co before founding the brokerage firm Gardner Rich & Co. in Chicago in 1987.
The memoir, both a New York Times and Washington Post #1 bestseller, has been translated into over 40 languages and was the inspiration for the acclaimed movie, “The Pursuit of Happyness,” starring Will Smith, as Gardner, who received Golden Globe, Screen Actors Guild and Academy Award nominations for his performance.
“So often people allow their circumstances to determine their destiny,” said Dr. Robert R. Jennings, president of The Lincoln University. “This is not the story of Chris Gardner.”
Gardner explained that his story was never a rags-to-riches’ story, but a story of a man trying to give his son something he never had and that was a father. Gardner encouraged the graduates “to start where they are” regardless of their personal circumstances and to strive to be “world class” in whatever field they chose.
Gardner said that Basketball legend Michael Jordan, Media Mogul Oprah Winfrey and President Barak Obama did not achieve their levels of success being committed to their “Plan B” nor did they do so allowing the –isms to hinder their efforts or change their plan.
“Understand that racism, sexism and all those other –isms are not new,” he said. “They were not invented just to mess with you and they are not going to go away. The most satisfying thing about your professional career will be that when folks who didn’t like you have to pay you because you are the best in the business.”
During commencement, Gardner was awarded the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters along with Dr. Tjama Tjivikua ’83, Founding Rector at the Polytechnic of Namibia, soon-to-be renamed Namibia University of Science and technology in late 2013.
Tjivikua, who is currently in his 18th year of tenure, has steered the Polytechnic to be one of Africa’s leading science and technology universities, having increased its enrollment from 2,500 in 1996 to more than 13,000 in 2013 and grown a staff from 130 to 900. The globally-recognized institution has attained more than 80 international partnerships.
Dr. Jennings also awarded the Presidential Medallion to retired Nigerian Lieutenant General Theophilus Yakubu Danjuma, a business and philanthropist, who donated $1 million to establish a campus museum in his name to house the university’s extensive African art collection as well as the recently donated Arthur Hall Collection, an archive of the late choreographer’s collected artwork, photographs and papers.
Danjuma is the founder of the Abuja, Nigeria-based TY Danjuma Foundation, which is committed to enhancing the quality of life of Nigerians by supporting initiatives that improve access to health and educational opportunities.
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EDITOR’S NOTE: ‘THE LINCOLN UNIVERSITY’ IS NOW THE OFFICIAL NAME FOR THE INSTITUTION FORMERLY REFERRED TO AS ‘LINCOLN UNIVERSITY’ OR ‘LINCOLN UNIVERSITY OF PA’ AND SHOULD BE ADHERED TO IN ALL REFERENCES.
The Lincoln University, founded in 1854 as the nation’s first degree-granting Historically Black College and University (HBCU), combines the elements of a liberal arts and science-based undergraduate curriculum along with select graduate programs to meet the needs of those living in a highly-technological and global society. Today, the University enrolls a diverse student body of approximately 2,000 men and women. Internationally recognized for preparing and producing world class leaders such as Thurgood Marshall, the first African American U.S. Supreme Court Justice, Lillian Fishburne, the first African American woman promoted to Rear Admiral in the U.S. Navy, Langston Hughes, the noted poet, Kwame Nkrumah, the first President of Ghana and Nnamdi Azikiwe, the first President of Nigeria.