WSJ_0516_WSSU

The rapper known as Common, (Lonnie Rashid Lynn, Jr.), delivered the commencement address at the WSSU graduation in Bowman Gray Stadium.

WINSTON-SALEM — Award-winning hip-hop recording artist and actor Common encouraged nearly 1,000 graduating students from Winston-Salem State University to follow and trust in their paths to achieve their dreams.

“You want to surround yourself with people who believe in your path,” Common said Friday. “Belief is contagious. As you climb up the mountain, it will be difficult at times.”

Common, who was born Lonnie Rashid Lynn Jr., was the keynote speaker at WSSU’s graduation ceremony, which was held at Bowman Gray Stadium before about 12,000 people.

During his 27-minute speech, Common talked about his career as an actor, author and a hip-hop artist.

He mixed humor with his remarks that elicited laughter from the crowd. Some women in the audience screamed as he spoke.

He told the graduates that he was inspired by NBA star Michael Jordan, media mogul Oprah Winfrey, President Barack Obama and Jesus.

Common said he learned as a youth playing for a basketball team in Chicago that he had to practice and work hard to achieve greatness.

Common said he dropped out of college to pursue a career as a hip-hop artist over the objection of his mother.

“I had found my path,” he said. “This voice of hip-hop would take me around the world.”

Common released his first album, “Can I borrow a Dollar,” in 1992, and he has since recorded nine others.

Common, 43, won a Grammy Award in 2003 for his song, “Love of My Life,” with singer-songwriter Erykah Badu.

Common won a second Grammy for his 2007 album, “Southside.”

He’s also a noted social activist.

During his speech, a young woman yelled to Common from the grandstand: “Here’s your wife.” Common replied, “Where are you; I want to meet you.”

The crowd laughed at the exchange.

Common told the graduating students they will face challenges in their lives, and they will not achieve their goals as quickly as they want.

“If you see the mountaintop, you know you will get there,” he said.

After his speech, the WSSU Choir and Symphonic Band performed the song “Glory” from the 2014 movie “Selma.” The song, by Common and singer John Legend, won the Academy Award in February for Best Original Song.

Afterward, WSSU Chancellor Elwood Robinson presented Common with an honorary doctorate of humane letters.

Common said he appreciated receiving the degree.

“This is one of the best days of my life to get this honor for you all,” Common said. “I’m grateful. I got a doctorate.”

Before the ceremony, Christina Ware, who is legally blind, said she was excited about receiving a bachelor’s degree in business management.

“WSSU has an awesome disability program,” Ware said. “I try not to live in the (blind) world. I strive to get nothing but A’s. I don’t let one thing define me.”

Get today’s top stories right in your inbox. Sign up for our daily morning newsletter.

Recommended for you

Load comments