Texas Southern University Mourns Passing of Muhammad Ali
Boxing Champion Awarded Honorary Doctorate in 1978
The Texas Southern University community acknowledges the death of Muhammad Ali, a boxing titan who was recognized throughout the world for his humanitarian efforts. Ali was awarded a doctor of humane letters at Commencement exercises in May, 1978.
Ali, who died in Phoenix on Friday, June 3, was remembered for his lively and personable commencement speech in 1978. He told the TSU graduates with a wink and a nod to “be just like him,” then turned serious, urging them “stand for something” in life. Ali received his doctoral hood from TSU President Dr. Granville Sawyer and Provost Dr. Robert Terry during the ceremony.
“Our University family is saddened to learn of the passing of Muhammad Ali. What a privilege to have had such a great and loving man on our campus, and to bestow the university’s higher honor upon him. This moment speaks to TSU’s illustrious history and his spirit will forever remain a part of this institution,” said Dr. Austin Lane, the new president of Texas Southern University.
Georgia Provost, a local entrepreneur, received her diploma that day and remembers the ceremony on the lawn of TSU’s Hannah Hall.
“I hadn’t planned to march that day, but I’m glad that I changed my mind,” Provost said. “It was a beautiful day and I remember it vividly. Getting my degree and being in the presence of Mr. Ali, Mickey Leland and the wonderful (Dr.) Thomas Freeman will be one of my most cherished memories.”
“This is a validation of Texas Southern’s motto ‘Excellence in Achievement,’ as we recognized Muhammad Ali’s distinction in his chosen profession. Mr. Ali lived and breathed excellence, touching everyone he met,” Dr. Freeman said.
The late George ‘Mickey’ Leland was a 1970 graduate of Texas Southern and went on to become a congressman for Texas’ 18th District and anti-poverty activist. Leland died in 1989 in a plane crash while on a mission to fight hunger in Africa.
Dr. Freeman is the internationally recognized Debate coach and Forensic Arts professor emeritus at Texas Southern. Freeman has been a part of TSU for over 60 years. The University named its Honors College after Freeman.
[left photo] Muhammad Ali is awarded a doctor of humane letters at TSU’s Commencement exercises in 1978. [pictured left to right] then TSU President Dr. Granville Sawyer, Ali, and then Provost Dr. Robert Terry. Former Congressman Mickey Leland [far left] watches the ceremony; [right photo] Boxing great Muhammad Ali receives his doctoral hood at TSU’s Commencement exercises in 1978. [pictured left to right] then TSU President Dr. Granville Sawyer, Ali, and then Provost Dr. Robert Terry.