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story.lead_photo.caption The University of Arkansas-Pine Bluff campus is shown in this undated file photo.

Smokie Norful, renowned gospel singer and pastor, will serve as the commencement speaker for the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's 162nd ceremony.

The ceremony, to be held virtually, on Friday, Dec. 18, at 6 p.m. via the University's YouTube channel and Facebook page, will recognize both spring and fall 2020 graduates and include the commissioning of Army officers. Seventeen graduates will be awarded the Chancellor's Medallion, an honor bestowed to students with the highest cumulative grade point average from each of the University's five schools of study.

An alumnus of UAPB, Norful is senior pastor of Victory Cathedral Worship Center in Bolingbrook, Ill., and is an internationally-acclaimed musician, music composer, and recording artist. His debut and now-classic gospel record, "I Need You Now," catapulted him to worldwide recognition and commercial success with four No. 1 Billboard albums and more than 2.5 million albums sold worldwide.

He's earned two Grammy awards, the first in 2005 for Contemporary Soul Gospel Album of the Year for his debut album Nothing Without You, and a second in 2015 for Best Gospel Performance/Song, "No Greater Love."

Norful is also the recipient of several Stellar, Dove, Soul Train, and NAACP Image Awards and a multigold certified artist by the Recording Industry Association of America. He is an educator at heart and earned a bachelor's of arts in history before teaching junior and senior high school students for several years. He went on to attend both Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary (Evanston, Ill.) and Trinity International Seminary (Deerfield, Ill.) where he received a master's of divinity and also served on the board of Regents for Trinity International University. Norful launched Victory Cathedral Worship Center in 2005 and opened a second campus in Chicago in 2008.

"I congratulate each of the more than five hundred graduates from the fall and spring classes of 2020," Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander said. "With tenacity and fortitude and the support of faculty, family and friends, these students have overcome much and deserve a grand celebration of their achievements. While students are unable to come together in person, it is our hope that they feel the love and care taken to produce this virtual commencement ceremony."

"The fall and spring classes of 2020 are of significant importance to the history of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff," Robert Z. Carr, Jr., provost and vice chancellor for Academic Affairs, said. "These graduates had to navigate the coronavirus pandemic while maintaining their studies in order to stay on track and complete their degree programs. Our deans, department chairs and faculty are immensely proud of their accomplishments during this especially difficult time."

The Division of Military Science's Golden Lion Battalion Army Reserve Officer Training Corps (ROTC) program will commission three officers in the United States Army during the ceremony. Additionally, a six-way tie in the School of Arts and Sciences in the spring graduating class means 17 graduates will receive honors as a Chancellor's Medallion recipient.

Other recipients include graduates from the School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, the School of Business and Management, the School of Education and the University College.

For more information about the virtual commencement ceremony contact Academic Affairs at 870.575.8475 or academicaffairs@uapb.edu.

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