Award-Winning Author Kiese Laymon Celebrates The Culture Of Jackson State University As 2023 Commencement Speaker

Commencement season has started, and some heavy hitters are speaking at some HBCUs this year. Kiese Laymon has joined that lineup.

Over the weekend, Jackson State University graduates walked the stage and crossed the threshold into the real world as their loved ones watched. Over 5,000 students were honored to have award-winning author Kiese Laymon as their keynote speaker at Mississippi Veterans Memorial Stadium.

During his speech, Laymon, who once attended the Mississippi-based school, talked about his grandmother, who dreamed of her children and grandchildren attending HBCUs over Ivy League schools. “Her dream was to send her children and her grandchildren not to Harvard, not to Stanford, not to Mississippi State nor Ole Miss,” Laymon said. “Her dream was to send her children to the place that gave her children the greatest chance to equitable access to second chances, healthy choices, good love, and that Black abundance.”

Laymon boasted about the ties he has to the popular school. His parents graduated from Jackson, and his mother, Mary Coleman, Ph.D., eventually became an assistant professor of political science at the HBCU.

Experiencing Jackson at an early age, Laymon, who has written for major publications such as The Washington Post, The New York Times, and more, reminisced on starting his writing journey on campus as a student for a brief time. “I believe by then I was one of the greatest writers in Mississippi, which means I believed I was on the verge of becoming one of the greatest writers in the world,” Laymon said. “And I knew whatever I actually was, will be, Jackson and Jackson State University made me.”

Author Kiese Laymon signs copies of his book “Long Division” at Books and Books on July 11, 2013 in Coral Gables, Florida. (Photo by Vallery Jean/FilmMagic)

The Mississippi native ended his speech by telling the grads, “We are the luckiest people in the world simply because you chose us,” referring to Jackson State. “Thank you for not giving up on us and thee I love, abundantly,” he said.

Last year, the award-winning author was a recipient of the MacArthur Fellows Program, which is only extended to 20 people every year. The program celebrates “the creative genius” of each participant and their ability to show originality and dedication to their creative crafts.

The school had plenty to celebrate besides graduation. During the NFL draft, Isaiah Bolden, a cornerback, was the first HBCU football player drafted this year, selected by the New England Patriots.