ATLANTA, May 15, 2020 /PRNewswire/ -- Through hard work, determination and balance, Kendra Grissom and Jasmine McClam have excelled and achieved high honors during their academic careers. Now, Grissom, a native of Baltimore, Maryland, and McClam, a native of Missouri City, Texas, can add valedictorian and salutatorian to their long list of academic achievements.
Being named valedictorian is especially significant for Grissom. A product of west Baltimore, the history major said people discounted her and made assumptions about her abilities because of her origin. Being named valedictorian confirms for her that how one begins does not determine how one ends.
"I am incredibly proud of my Baltimore roots and I hope this moment serves as evidence that inner city youth should not be underestimated," she said. "As a first-generation college student, I am incredibly blessed to have a village of amazing mentors, teachers, family members, friends, neighbors, professors and church members who have supported me throughout my life's journey. I would not be where I am today without them, and this honor is as much theirs as it is mine."
Michelle Hite, Ph.D., associate professor of English and director of the Honors Program, is one of those mentors. Even though Grissom was never one of her students, Dr. Hite's mentorship helped shape her intellectual life at Spelman.
"Kendra sought me out after hearing me speak and wanted to learn more about my intellectual journey and how to build a life rooted in ideas," said Dr. Hite. "Through Kendra's example, students can observe the intellectual sovereignty that serious academic work demands. Though no instructor gave Kendra an assignment to seek me out or to create rich and meaningful intellectual experiences for herself, she did it anyway. Grad school is built for just such a renegade. I'm proud of her and look forward to having her as a professional peer one day soon."
The recipient of the Clio Outstanding History Graduating Senior Award, Grissom is a member of the Phi Alpha Theta and Phi Beta Kappa Honor Societies and a UNCF Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow. She served as a mentor in the Ford First Gen Scholars Program, was an ambassador of the Spelman College Museum of Fine Art and worked with the Spelman College Glee Club. Following graduation, Grissom will continue her studies at Johns Hopkins University, where she plans to pursue a Ph.D. in history. Her overall goal is to become a professor at a historically Black college or university, making history more accessible while actively working to impact change in public education.
Following in the footsteps of her mother and aunts, McClam is a fourth generation HBCU graduate. Choosing to attend Spelman was the best decision of her life, she said, because she learned the power of persevering after failure.
"I always had the goal of maintaining high scholastic excellence throughout my Spelman career. Every semester, I made a pact with myself to maintain a good balance between my academics, extracurricular activities and time with my friends," she said. "Many opportunities I received, I got on my second or third try. Spelman taught me how to pick myself up after I fall. This honor means the world to me and to my family."
McClam credits professors like Jeanne T. Meadows, Ph.D., associate professor of international studies and director of the International Affairs Center, with helping her throughout her Spelman career. Dr. Meadows expects that through her work, McClam will bring to life Spelman's mantra, "A Choice to Change the World."
"Jasmine's native intelligence, her strong academic skills, and her calm and decisive demeanor are clearly impressive," said Dr. Meadows. "She understands the approaches needed to address the social, economic and political issues in national and international settings. She is very aware of the exigencies of life that divide people and has demonstrated an ability to work to overcome them."
Having worked closely with McClam over the course of the past two years, DeKimberlen J. Neely, Ph.D., an associate dean in the Office of Undergraduate Studies, said McClam is destined for greatness.
"Over the past two years, Jasmine has consistently demonstrated that she is open to constructive feedback and willing to be pushed beyond her limits with good energy," said Dr. Neely. "Jasmine is a thought leader who leads with humility and keen insight. It has been an honor to work with her."
McClam, an international studies major, has traveled abroad to various countries across Latin America. In 2019, she was named a finalist for the Harry S. Truman Scholarship, and was inducted into Spelman's chapter of Phi Beta Kappa. She was a 2020 Charles B. Rangel International Affairs Fellowship finalist, a Mickey Leland Endowed Scholar and the recipient of the Thomas R. Pickering Foreign Affairs Fellowship. As part of the fellowship McClam will attend the School of International and Public Affairs at Columbia University where she will pursue a graduate degree in international affairs. Her overall goal is to become an assistant secretary of the Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs within the U.S. Department of State.
Graduate Tribute 2020
Spelman will celebrate the success of the Class of 2020 at a formal in-person Commencement ceremony, which will be held at a later date. To celebrate the stellar work of the Class of 2020, the College will host virtual events organized to honor its more than 480 graduates.
The weekend of celebrations will kick-off at 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 15, with a discussion between Spelman Student Government President Nia Page, C'2020, and two-time Grammy-nominated recording artists Chloe x Halle on @Spelman_College, the institution's official Instagram channel. At 7 p.m., the event will segue from a conversation to a live performance by the duo in tribute to Spelman students on the @ChloexHalle Instagram platform, where they will perform music from their upcoming album.
The virtual celebration will continue at 1 p.m. Saturday, May 16, with the Spelman Senior Salute live streamed on Spelman.edu and the College's official Facebook page. Filled with tributes and surprises, the live stream is an opportunity for the entire Spelman community to commend the graduates via #SpelmanGrad20 and #SpelmanSeniorSalute.
More information about graduate tributes can be found via Spelman Senior Salute.
About Spelman College
Founded in 1881, Spelman College is a leading liberal arts college widely recognized as the global leader in the education of women of African descent. Located in Atlanta, the College's picturesque campus is home to 2,100 students. Spelman is the country's leading producer of Black women who complete Ph.D.s in science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). The College's status is confirmed by U.S. News and World Report, which ranked Spelman No. 57 among all liberal arts colleges, No. 22 for undergraduate teaching and No. 6 for both innovation and social mobility among liberal arts colleges, and No. 1 for the 13th year among historically Black colleges and universities. The Wall Street Journal ranked the College No. 3, nationally, in terms of student satisfaction. Recent initiatives include a designation by the Department of Defense as a Center of Excellence for Minority Women in STEM, a Gender and Sexuality Studies Institute, the first endowed queer studies chair at an HBCU, and a program to increase the number of Black women Ph.D.s in economics. New majors have been added, including documentary filmmaking and photography, and partnerships have been established with MIT's Media Lab, the Broad Institute and the Army Research Lab for artificial intelligence and machine learning. Outstanding alumnae include Children's Defense Fund founder Marian Wright Edelman, Starbucks Group President and COO Rosalind Brewer, political leader Stacey Abrams, former Acting Surgeon General and Spelman's first alumna president Audrey Forbes Manley, actress and producer Latanya Richardson Jackson, global bioinformatics geneticist Janina Jeff and authors Pearl Cleage and Tayari Jones. For more information, visit www.spelman.edu.
SOURCE Spelman College