Shorter College, Arkansas’ only two-year historically Black college, held Spring Commencement Exercises on May 11, at 11 a.m. in the F.C. James Building on the campus of Shorter College in North Little Rock.

Willhelm Cedric Hawkins is the first candidate for graduation since the institution’s re-accreditation candidacy through the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools. Hawkins received an Associate of Arts degree and graduate as an honor student with a 3.5 grade point average.

"Shorter College is in the midst of a re-birth," Jerome Green, President of Shorter College said. "As the newly appointed president, I am confident Shorter is on its way to receiving full accreditation, which will allow us to guide countless more students, like Willhelm, through the process of earning a degree in order to compete for better-paying jobs."

Other Shorter College officials are excited about the graduation.

"The Board of Trustees congratulates Mr. Hawkins on his accomplishment," Bishop Samuel Green, Sr., Chairman of the Board of Trustees said. "This is an exciting time for not only Willhelm, but also for the students, faculty and staff of Shorter College, as we work to restore Shorter College to the great educational institution it has been to thousands of students in its 127-year history."

Shorter College’s student enrollment stands at more than 300 students, an increase from 15 students in 2011. The college has met eligibility requirements to be considered a candidate for accreditation. It is currently in the midst of the self-study phase that is required to receive accreditation.

Hawkins, 55, of Little Rock, is married with seven children and eight grandchildren.

"My career plans are to attend four-year institution Philander Smith College in Little Rock to major in business management," Hawkins said. "It has been a difficult journey because of wrong life choices, such as drug abuse for 25 years."

Hawkins said has been clean for eight years; he felt he had lost self respect, confidence, joy, and happiness.

"I thought I wasn’t worth getting a degree, or trying to get an education. That’s the struggle I dealt with," Hawkins said. "My grandmother, mother and father were educators, so I didn’t have to make the choices I did, but I made them and I can’t blame anyone but me."

Hawkins added, "It feels good. I feel blessed to come this far. I feel blessed that I’m alive. I just feel blessed."

Hawkins said he is happy about the recent amount of positive attention he has been getting.

"I’m trying to get used to all of this attention I’m receiving. Sometimes my wife gets on to me, for not receiving the attention well. She tells me I deserve the recognition."

Shorter College was founded by the African Methodist Episcopal Church in 1886 to provide educational training and experiences to ex-slaves and African Americans who did not have access to public education institutions. Today, the mission of Shorter College is to provide accessible, affordable, high quality education for students of all races, to accomplish goals by offering programs that meet the learner’s need in a challenging and nurturing Christian environment.