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Cole receives honorary degree, says ‘just do it’

(Photos by Shelly Hanks, WSU Photo Services.)
PULLMAN — Johnnetta Cole reflected on her time at WSU and urged graduates at the Dec. 8 commencement ceremonies to make a difference in their world .
“It is here at WSU where I first came to fully appreciate that an education is about coming to understand the world better. It is also about the responsibility that an educated person has to help to make the world better,” said Cole, who received an honorary doctoral degree at the ceremony.
To listen to the speech, go ONLINE @
Cole was a member of the WSU anthropology faculty from 1964 to 1970, as she began a career in anthropological research on cross-cultural issues of race, class, and gender. In 1970, she was named WSU’s outstanding faculty member. She was the first director of the university’s Black Studies Program which was later consolidated with other programs into what is now the WSU Department of Comparative Ethnic Studies.
She went on to become president of Spelman College in Georgia from 1987 to 1997 and Bennett College in North Carolina from 2002 to June 2007.
Cole is the first person to receive an honorary WSU doctoral degree since 2005. The first such degree was given by the university in 1929.
Started black studies
“In a sense, all of my life and work had prepared me to be the young professor who was writing her dissertation for a PhD in Anthropology while taking leadership in helping to establish, here at WSU, one of the very first black studies programs in our country,” Cole said of her years at WSU.
“How well I remember the excitement associated with teaching and learning, of posing questions and imagining explanations, of discovering a new concept and challenging a deeply held belief.”
Cole urged students to be active in their communities and work to help break down the barriers in society.
“Education is a precious and powerful process. Never stop engaging in it. Social activism is a responsibility of every well-educated woman and man.  So just do it,” Cole said. “In our communities, our nation and our world we have constructed lines that divide us. Reach out across them and help to create a world where diversity and inclusion is celebrated.”
WSU President Elson S. Floyd presided at the event, his first commencement since he became WSU’s 10th president in May. He was presented with the presidential medallion and stole symbolic of his office.
About 800 students received degrees at the ceremony.

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