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A historically Black university holds what could be its last graduation


Commencement ceremony at a small historically Black university in North Carolina recently was full of joy - but it may have been the institution's last graduation, as Leoneda Inge of member station WUNC reports.

LEONEDA INGE, BYLINE: The 2024 graduating class at Saint Augustine's University in Raleigh sat in white chairs on the 50-yard line of the school's football field. Chamber singers performed the national anthem, and then they sang the Black national anthem.


UNIDENTIFIED SINGERS: (Singing) We have come. Oh, we have come over a way that with tears has been watered. Oh, we have come, treading our path through the blood of the slaughtered.

INGE: Saint Augustine's was founded in 1867. But last fall, the HBCU learned it would lose accreditation. The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, or SACS, said the university was not meeting financial oversight standards. But that didn't stop graduation day.


MARCUS BURGESS: Graduates, please rise. It is now time for the best part.

INGE: Marcus Burgess became interim president at Saint Augustine's in December.


BURGESS: All hail the blue and white.


BURGESS: You may turn your tassels.


INGE: Some 150 students did, and then they got out of their chairs and danced on the football field for a full 2 minutes.


BURGESS: Let it out (ph). Have a good time.


FAST LIFE YUNGSTAZ: (Singing) Man, I got that swag.

INGE: Student body president Ariana White says she must be optimistic about her school's future.

ARIANA WHITE: We're just going to keep praying. We're just going to keep fighting. With my class of 2024 - us being COVID babies, we don't give up easy. So I just want to let it be known that with us being the new alumni, we're not going to let our school go down at all.

INGE: SACS is the accrediting body for close to 800 schools. Saint Augustine's troubles aren't a secret. This year, the school was late paying faculty and staff more than once, and students were sent home early this semester to continue classes virtually. These troubles seemed to take a back seat to graduation. Vernon Sales was on hand to celebrate his son, Lee.

So what are your hopes and dreams for your son and for this school?

VERNON SALES: My dreams for the school is to get it together. My dreams for my son is just be successful and keep God first.

INGE: Saint Augustine's is still appealing the SACS decision to remain accredited. If they're not successful, this class of 2024 could be its last. For NPR News, I'm Leoneda Inge in Durham, N.C. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Leonada Inge