The University of the Virgin Islands awarded three honorary degrees at the 49th Annual Commencement Ceremonies held Saturday, May 11, on the St. Thomas Campus and on Sunday, May 12, on the Albert A. Sheen Campus on St. Croix. Former U.S. Congressman and NAACP President Kweisi Mfume, who also served as keynote speaker and Career Ambassador Terence Todman received diplomas on the St. Thomas campus, while historian George Tyson received a diploma on the Albert A. Sheen Campus. Mfume and Todman received honorary degrees of doctorates of law and Tyson received a doctorate of humane letters.
UVI grants honorary degrees to recognize the outstanding accomplishments of individuals whom the institution admires and desires its students to emulate.
“Congressman Mfume has been an articulate forceful visionary whose strength and leadership make him a solider in the army of justice,” said UVI President Dr. David Hall. “You have made a major contribution to government and to society that is worthy of our recognition. You have set standards for others in regards to our transformed government so that government is responsive to the needs of our changing world.”
Mfume has had an illustrious career as a lawmaker, activist and commentator – starting first as a member of the Baltimore City Council. In local government service, Mfume led efforts to diversify city government, improve community safety and enhance business development. As a congressman, Mfume consistently advocated landmark business and civil rights legislation.
“During his five-term tenure in Congress, Congressman Mfume used his membership in powerful committees to help advance the needs of those whose voices are least often heard by the federal government,” said President Hall. “The congressman was a renowned champion of average hard-working Americans, the elderly, our children and the underprivileged.” As head of the NAACP he raised the organization’s national profile, raised significant outside contributions and helped to restore its prominence among the nation’s civil rights organizations. Mfume has served on many boards and is the recipient of 10 other honorary doctorate degrees and has won hundreds of other awards, proclamations and citations.
Todman is a retired U.S. Foreign Service Officer who holds the rank of career ambassador for a life-time. “He is one of only 54 persons ever to hold the title and the first African American to do so,” said President Hall, at Saturday’s commencement ceremony. “This honor was presented to him in 1989 by President H. W. Bush. Equivalent to the military’s four-star general, career ambassador is the State Department’s highest rank.”
From 1969 to 1993, Todman has served as ambassador in a variety of countries, including Argentina, Denmark, Spain, Costa Rica, Guinea and Chad. In 1977, he was Assistant Secretary of State for Inter-American Affairs. He is fluent in Arabic, Spanish, Japanese, Hindu, Danish, French and Russian. In 1969, Todman served as director of the Office of East African Affairs in the Department of State. He also served as deputy chief of Mission and Charge d’Affaires in Lome, Togo. Since his retirement, Todman has served on Foreign Service Selection Boards to consider and recom¬mend the promotion of the most senior foreign service officers.
Todman has received the Presidential Distinguished Service Award, the National Public Service Award, the Public Diplomacy Award, the Department of State Superior Service Honor Award, the Secretary of State’s Distinguished Service Award and the Department of State Director General’s Cup. A special ceremony was held in his honor in Statuary Hall in the U.S. Congress. He has been decorated by the governments of Argentina, Chad, Denmark, Spain and the U.S. Virgin Islands. He has also been inducted into the Hall of Fame of the U.S. Infantry School at Fort Benning, GA.
“He is an extraordinary man with ordinary beginnings,” said President Hall. Todman was born and raised on St. Thomas. He received a bachelor’s degree from Inter-American University and graduated summa cum laude. Todman received a master’s in public administration from Syracuse University in New York and has done further graduate studies at American University in Washington, D.C. He holds honorary doctorate degrees from Colgate, Syracuse, Morgan State and Boston universities. For more than 20 years he served on the Board of Trustees of the University of the Virgin Islands and has been a member of Advisory Boards of Duke, Georgetown and Syracuse universities.
“Through your diplomatic achievement and impeccable leadership, integrity and visionary insight you have made a major contribution to international governmental relations and to society in general, and that is worthy of our recognition,” said President Hall. “We are proud to bestow upon you the degree of doctor in law with all the rights, privileges and responsibilities appertaining thereto. We are honored to have you counted among our graduates.”
George F. Tyson is a public historian that has authored and co-authored many history books on the Virgin Islands, including: “The History of a Crucian Sugar Plantation 1734 to 1977” in 2011, “Maritime Marronage From St. Croix to Puerto Rico” in 2012 and “The Enighed Estate and Ruin of St. John: An Historical Survey” in 1976.
In addition to writing and lecturing, Tyson is a cultural re¬source specialist, who has authored more than 70 historical background studies for plantation and urban properties in the U.S. Virgin Islands, as well as historic site inventories, museum reports and heritage tourism studies for the Virgin Islands and various Caribbean countries.
Tyson received a master’s degree in history from Columbia University in 1966 and moved to St. Thomas. He moved to St. Croix in 1992, where he currently resides. He taught history at UVI and has worked as a research associate with the Island Resources Foundation. He has had leadership roles on numerous boards, including the St. Thomas Historical Trust and St. Croix Landmarks Society.
Currently, Tyson is director of the St. Croix African Roots Project, a collaboration of Danish and American scholars engaged in documenting and studying the demographic characteristics, individual biographies and family histories of enslaved and free Crucians of African ancestry during the period of Danish rule from 1734 to 1917. One major outcome of this project has been The St. Croix Population Database from 1734 to 1917, consisting of nearly two million biographical records compiled from a vast ar¬ray of historical documents archived in Denmark, the United States and the Virgin Islands. This still-evolving, educational resource, which is available online and at libraries on St. Croix, enables Virgin Islanders to reconstruct their history from an indigenous perspective and to trace their family roots back to African ancestors and to African homelands.
“Good history professors are storytellers and guides and they teach as well as inspire,” said President Hall. “Professor Tyson is an outstanding educator who connects the past with the present and makes it relevant.”
Hall added, “Dr. Tyson, you have made a major contribution to historic preservation and to society in general – that is worthy of our recognition."