This is the second of 14 entries in a series highlighting Jefferson County high school and college graduates.
Terms like "legacy," "UAPB" and "HBCU" have different meanings in Dr. Ruth D. Jones' dictionary.
"Carve your name on hearts, not tombstones," she told the 288 graduates at the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff's spring commencement Saturday morning. "A legacy is etched into the minds of others and stories they share about you. Today is the beginning of your new chapter in your life. You are the COO of your life, not your mom, your dad [or] your granny. You are the COO, and you're in control of your life right now. So, what will your legacy be? What will you want people to say about you? What stories will you want them to share about you for the rest of your life?"
Jones defined legacy as "letting experience guide and change you." The 1994 UAPB graduate, who is now associate manager of the Human Exploration Development and Operations Office at the NASA Marshall Space Flight Center, dropped some wisdom and new meanings of acronyms on a sunny Saturday at Simmons Bank Field at Golden Lion Stadium.
For example, UAPB means "university always producing brilliancy," and HBCU -- which stands for historically Black colleges and universities -- can also mean "helping Blacks compete universally," which Jones challenged the graduates to do while naming successful graduates of HBCUs.
A Helena-West Helena native, Jones first majored in accounting at UAPB but was encouraged by a professor to change to physics. The professor failed to tell her, she said, that there were no physics majors on campus at the time.
After becoming the first woman to earn a physics degree at UAPB, Jones became the second African American woman in Alabama to receive a Ph.D. in physics, earning it at Alabama A&M University in Huntsville. These days, she leads project management and system engineering processes in her Huntsville office and is considered one of NASA's Modern Figures, an honor modeled after the movie "Hidden Figures."
Thirty-one of the 288 graduates obtained master's degrees. Six of the graduates received the Chancellor's Medallion as the top graduates in their respective school or division of the university (there was a two-way tie in the School of Arts and Sciences):
• Allison Malone of Memphis, School of Agriculture, Fisheries and Human Sciences, 3.993 grade-point average in agriculture engineering.
• Cristalyn Allmond of Pine Bluff, School of Arts and Sciences, 4.0 in nursing.
• Janee Townsend of Little Rock, School of Arts and Sciences, 4.0 in social work.
• Haley Gomez of Eastvale, Calif., School of Business and Management, 3.948 in business administration/marketing.
• Denisha Bush of Lakeview, School of Education, 3.957 in health and physical education/recreation and wellness.
• Syan Tyler of Holly Grove, University College, 3.763 in general studies.
Senior class President Tyesha Fields of Pine Bluff and student government President Leon Jones III of Fayetteville won the Outstanding Achievement Awards for their leadership. In giving student reflections, Fields acknowledged her classmates for the resiliency they showed through the 2021 winter storms that led to a campus-wide water freeze as well as virtual learning amid the covid-19 pandemic.
Jones directed his message to the entire world:
"Know that our class has the grit, drive and determination to get what we want," he said. "Look out, world! We're coming in full force, and I'm not sure you're quite ready."
Ten graduates of UAPB's Army Reserve Officer Training Corps were commissioned as second lieutenants: Kayana Brown, Michael Gerwitz, Sade' Hudson, Kaunecia McCoy, Amayia Rhodes, Andrea Riera, Djuan Williams, Zeyairia Williams, Fields and Townsend.
Lt. Col. Kevin Moyer swore the group in for the final time as UAPB's professor of military science. Chancellor Laurence B. Alexander said a different professor takes over the ROTC on a rotating basis.