The University of Memphis celebrated the largest Commencement in its history Saturday,
May 8, awarding a total of 2,036 degrees in two ceremonies at FedExForum. The U of
M also presented an honorary doctor of letters degree to iconic civil rights leader
and educator Maxine Smith at the afternoon session.
In a 10 a.m. ceremony, the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Communication
and Fine Arts, and the University College conferred degrees.
At 2 p.m., Commencement was held for the Fogelman College of Business & Economics,
the College of Education, Health and Human Sciences, the Herff College of Engineering,
the Loewenberg School of Nursing, the School of Audiology and Speech-Language Pathology,
and the School of Public Health.
The Cecil C. Humphreys School of Law held its graduation Sunday, May 9, at 3 p.m.
at the Cannon Center for the Performing Arts.
“The University of Memphis is very pleased that this year we had the largest graduating
class in our history, even larger than the record we set last year,” said Provost
Ralph Faudree. “Over the past two academic years, we have awarded more than 7,500
degrees, with more than 250 of those awarded to doctoral students who completed degree
requirements during this time.”
There are two reasons for the rise, Faudree said. “One is that we have increased our
entrance standards, and we have had more students apply and enter the University.
The second is that our retention efforts have been successful, so more students are
moving through the programs and completing them.”
Honorary degree recipient Maxine Smith has been a tireless civil rights leader and
advocate for education in Memphis for more than 50 years. Born in Memphis in 1929,
she earned a bachelor’s degree from Spelman College in Atlanta and a master’s degree
from Middlebury College in Vermont. Smith went on to a successful career as a college
French instructor. Despite these accomplishments, she was denied admission to then-Memphis
State University in 1957 because of her race. That rejection helped spark a career
of advocacy for civil rights and education.
Smith served as executive secretary of the Memphis branch of the National Association
for the Advancement of Colored People from 1962 to 1995. She worked on voter registration
drives for the Shelby County Democratic Club, a launching pad for many black political
hopefuls. She also led sit-ins and boycotts. Her “Black Mondays” boycotts in 1969
were aimed at gaining equality in the school system. Some 69,000 students stayed home
on those Mondays.
In 1971 she became the first African-American elected to the Memphis Board of Education,
where she served until 1995. Smith was a two-term member of the Tennessee Board of
Regents, the governing body for 45 universities, community colleges and technology
centers throughout the state, the sixth largest educational system in the nation.
She also provided strong support for the U of M during several terms on the University’s
Board of Visitors.
Among her numerous honors, she received the 2003 National Civil Rights Museum Freedom
Award, along with President Bill Clinton. Smith was also named Distinguished Friend
of the University of Memphis by the National Alumni Association in 2001.
Speaker for both ceremonies was J. Stanley Rogers, a senior partner with the Rogers
& Duncan law firm in Manchester and a member of the Tennessee Board of Regents since
1994. Admitted to practice law in Tennessee in 1964, Rogers is a member of the Coffee
County, Tennessee, Federal, and American Bar Associations, the Tennessee Trial Lawyers
Association, and the Association of Trial Lawyers of America.
J. Stanley Rogers
Rogers is a Fellow of the American College of Trial Lawyers. He also has been a member
of the Lawyers Involved for Tennessee, the Tennessee Appellate Court Nominating Commission,
the Tennessee Judicial Evaluation Commission, and the U. S. Circuit Judge Nominating
Commission, Sixth Circuit.
He served in the Tennessee House of Representatives for six years, and was majority
leader during the 88th and 89th General Assemblies. He received his B.S. degree from Middle Tennessee State University
and a Juris Doctor degree from Vanderbilt University.