Simmons salutes 23 grads, U of L's Ramsey

Grace Schneider
Louisville Courier Journal

Simmons College celebrated its annual commencement Sunday by awarding degrees to 23 graduates and five community leaders who have given back to the historically black college.

Speaking to a full house in the sanctuary at St. Stephen Baptist Church, The Rev. Kevin Cosby, the president of the Simmons, praised one man in particular - University of Louisville president James Ramsey, who received an honorary Doctor of Humanities.

Cosby said that Ramsey reached out to him more than a decade ago to offer Simmons crucial help with technological support, students and an articulation agreement that allows students to transfer and continue classes at U of L.

Simmons, Cosby said, was responsible for the rise of the black middle class, sending doctors, lawyers and business people into the community to lead. Yet in 1929 when the Great Depression hit, the college fell on hard times. U of L's president then, Raymond Kent, took advantage of Simmons' misfortune and didn't step in when the school dwindled to a single degree program, Cosby said.

By contrast, Ramsey delivered the message that what Kent did wrong, he would make right, the pastor and college president said. When he gave Ramsey the degree later in the commencement, Cosby said "we're remembering Jim Ramsey because Jim Ramsey remembered us."

Ramsey seemed deeply moved as he began a commencement address. His voice broke when he told the students seated and wearing black caps and gowns in front of him that he's been "very blessed" to have the love and support of his family. "They strengthen me more than I can say."

He pledged to continue to strengthen the partnership between Simmons and U of L and to help expand opportunities. When U of L could have helped Simmons in the 1930's "we regrettably refused" despite the college's deep roots in the community. It was the first in Kentucky to award degrees to African Americans and it's been a guiding light in offering a path to a better future for many, Ramsey said.

Simmons has grown from four graduates four years ago to nine in 2014, after the U.S. Department of Education granted full accreditation to the school. Cosby said Sunday that the school mailed letters of acceptance this week to 300 students, so enrollment could double next year from the current 251.

Simmons awarded associates degrees in religious studies and general studies, as well as bachelor's degrees in religious studies and theology. Next year will be the first year the school awards non-theological degrees. Programs besides religious studies include sociology, communications, music and business administration.

Four others also received honorary degrees - Metro Councilman David Tandy, former Courier-Journal reporter and editorial writer Betty Winston Baye', the Rev. Gregory Smith and the Rev. Ronnie Norfleet.

Reporter Grace Schneider can be reached at 502-582-4082 or email,