Coley offers five elements to guide graduates’ success

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Cal Poly Pomona President Dr. Soraya Coley ’72 receives honorary degree. Photo Credit: Robert Williams

Lincoln University’s first alumna president of a college or university, Soraya Coley ’72, touted five “elements” of her own essential life lessons as a road map to success for graduates during her address Friday at Lincoln University’s 157th Commencement.  

Dr. Coley, who became the sixth president of California State Polytechnic University, Pomona (Cal Poly Pomona) and was awarded an honorary degree during the ceremony, explained to graduates that their degree alone did not assure success, but rather what they do and how they engage that “will determine the trajectory of your life.”

“I’m reminded of a Nike commercial a couple years ago,” she said.  “It’s not about the shoes, and I might add, the degree, the clothes, the cars and all the external trappings of life.  It’s about knowing where you are going, not forgetting where you started.  It’s about having the courage to fail and not breaking when you are broken. Taking everything you’ve been given and making something better.  It’s about work before glory and what’s inside you.  It’s doing what they say you can’t. It’s not about the shoes. It’s about what you do in them. It’s about who you were born to be. Become legendary.”

Coley, who has over 25 years of academic and administrative experience, had served as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at California State University, Bakersfield, and was senior research fellow at Children and Family Future’s National Center on Child Welfare and Substance Abuse. She has also served as provost and vice president for Academic Affairs at Alliant International University, and is professor emeritus at California State University, Fullerton, where she served as dean of the College of Human Development and Community Service.

She earned her bachelor’s degree from Lincoln, and both her master’s degree in social planning and social research and her doctorate degree in social planning and policy at Bryn Mawr College’s School of Social Work and Social Research.  She is married to Lt. Col. (Ret.) Ron Coley.

Coley’s five “elements” were expectations, action, persistence, seeking and maintaining options and discovering your purpose. She explained that expectations and action went hand in hand since action moves one toward their expectations and that expectations were critical because if “you have no or low expectations you will behave in ways that don’t matter.”

“It is not a disgrace to not reach the stars, but it is a disgrace to not have stars to reach,” Coley said.

Persistence, she added, would move them through their failures, by learning from them, and to keep moving forward.  She illustrated her point by reciting Maya Angelou’s poem, “And Still I Rise.”

Her fourth element, seeking and maintaining options, means that a person needs broad experiences that allow them to continue learning and growing so they can adapt to a changing world with more choices.

“If you only know one thing and never expand, you will not remain competitive,” she said.  “Going to college and achieving a degree opens up options for you and going to Lincoln provided me opportunities and options that I would not have had if I stayed in North Carolina and not attended college.”

Lastly, discover your purpose, she said.

“You have talents and gifts that are still unfolding and you may not readily know what they are, but be open to the advice of mentors and pursue those areas that seem to interest and align with your curiosity and passion.”

Namibian Prime Minister Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila ’94 receives honorary degree. Photo Credit: Robert Williams

In addition to Coley, another Lincoln alumna Saara Kuugongelwa-Amadhila ’94, who was named and sworn in as the fourth prime minister of Namibia and the first woman in that capacity in March 2015, was awarded an honorary degree.

Reynta Nyasha Scales named Valedictorian. Photo Credit: Robert Williams

Reynta Nyasha Scales, a biology major from Prince George’s County, Md., was named valedictorian. Scales, who earned a 4.0 GPA, will attend medical school in the fall at Penn State Medical School.

During her address, Scales likened her class’s academic journey to their own actual travels through Oxford and parts of rural Chester County, Pa.

“Now living in the Lincoln University area as a driver or passenger, we’ve all experienced those back roads to Delaware late at night or the foggy drives down Route 1. Better yet, we’ve all got stuck behind the Amish carriages and tried to use our city driving skills to pass them,” she said. “These driving experiences sound a lot like late night studying all to prepare for an exam or throwing together a paper a day before it is due. We have even been through points of foggy view of how our grades may end up at the end of the semester or what the plan would be for after graduation. We’ve even gotten stuck behind some Amish carriages like finding some unexpected negative balances on our web advisor or not receiving the scholarship you were hoping to . . .  Despite having these challenges on the road, we adapted to them. We kept our GPS’s on and we kept pushing. Even through our road rage during these four years we have thankfully made it past these challenges and are sitting in the seats of college graduates.”

By Eric Christopher Webb ’91, Director, Office of Communications & Public Relations