NJIT commencement: Newark historian Clement Price reflects on history and race

By Kelly Heyboer/ The Star-Ledger
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on May 20, 2014

Clement Price, a Rutgers history professor and expert on Newark, receives a honorary degree during NJIT's commencement ceremony 2014 held in Newark. Tuesday May, 20, 2014


NEWARK — In 1969, Clement Price took to the streets of Newark with students and faculty members from around the city to protest the lack of minorities admitted to the nearly all-white Rutgers-Newark.

Price, then a new professor at neighboring Essex County College, joined members of Rutgers' Black Organization of Students as they marched through downtown Newark and eventually took over the university's Conklin Hall in a tense 72-hour standoff that divided the state's largest city.

More than 45 years later, Price stood again today in the center of Newark -- this time on the stage of the Prudential Center as the speaker at New Jersey Institute of Technology's commencement. Looking out over thousands of graduates of various races and ethnicities, the 68-year-old history professor said he could hardly believe how times had changed.

"Just look at yourselves," Price said. "The diversity of your class, the globalization of your class, was something that the Conklin Hall liberators could have never envisioned."

Price, now a Rutgers-Newark professor and Newark's historian, spoke before more than 2,600 graduates at NJIT's 98th commencement. NJIT, along with neighboring Rutgers-Newark and Essex County College, is among the state's most racially diverse campuses. More than half of NJIT's students are racial minorities, according to state statistics.

By choosing to attend college in Newark, the students played a part in the city's comeback, Price said.

"On your watch, Newark has become a city of destination. On your watch, race has become less of an issue in Newark, trumped by opportunity," Price said.

NJIT presented an honorary doctor of humane letters degree to Price, who serves as director of the Rutgers Institute on Ethnicity, Culture, and the Modern Experience. Honorary doctor of science degrees were also presented to John Dionisio, executive chairman of the architecture and engineering firm AECOM, and Robert Dow, retired managing partner of the investment firm Lord Abbett & Co.

The Newark Boys Chorus performed "This Little Light of Mine," before school officials began the multi-hour process of reading the names of all of the graduates before cheering friends and relatives who nearly filled the arena.

Price reminded the graduates to honor their parents and loved ones who helped them get to graduation day and woke up early to attend the 9 a.m. ceremony.

"Take in this moment. It's a precious moment, a moment you will remember for the rest of your lives," Price said.

NJIT's commencement is one of several being held around New Jersey this week. Fairleigh Dickinson University held its 71st commencement at the Izod Center in East Rutherford today. Novelist Joyce Carol Oates was among those presented with an honorary degree.

Rutgers-Newark, Monmouth University and Stevens Institute of Technology are among the schools holding commencements Wednesday. Ceremonies for Kean University, Bloomfield College, Georgian Court University and Montclair State are among those being held later in the week.

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