St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch Challenges FAMU Grads To Uplift Their Communities and Stand Up For What’s Right

May 02, 2022
Mayor Ken Welch
St. Petersburg Mayor Ken Welch Challenges FAMU Grads To Uplift Their Communities and Stand Up For What’s Right

Florida A&M University (FAMU) Spring Commencement speaker St. Petersburg Mayor Kenneth T. Welch challenged spring 2022 graduates to “double up” – uplift their community and stand up and make a difference.

On Friday evening Welch, the first African American elected mayor of his hometown, reminded College of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Sciences, Institute of Public Health, School of Business and Industry and the College of Social Sciences, Arts and Humanities graduates of their obligation to help their communities as they achieve and succeed. 

GraduatesGraduates celebrate Spring Commencementon Friday, April 29, 2022.

“As to the first up, you are the best and brightest, the best the HBCUs have to offer. We need you to be about the business of uplifting our communities, whether it be in mentoring, tutoring, volunteering, being a big brother or sister.  If you can find a way to impact just one life, it will bring much needed uplift to our African American community,” said Welch.  “I believe part of that purpose is bringing uplift and hope to others. We are achieving so much as African Americans, but our neighborhoods continue to struggle with violence, hunger, and poverty. We still can predict how long you will live, how likely you are to have cancer and even how likely you are to be arrested, based on where you live and what your race is,” said Welch, touching on some of the issues that has marked his career in public service.

“In plain language, African Americans still live shorter lives, make less money and have worse health and justice outcomes than the rest of America. And it will take all of us to change that.”

Otis Mason & RobinsonOtis Mason receives an honorary degree from President Larry Robinson during the FAMU Spring Commencement on Friday, April 29, 2022.

The son of a St. Petersburg City Councilman, Welch served on the Pinellas County Commission for 20 years. During his tenure, he focused on economic development, transportation, equity, housing, criminal justice reform and fighting poverty. Following his election last fall, Welch was sworn in as St. Petersburg’s first Black mayor in January. After receiving his bachelor’s from the University of South Florida-St. Petersburg, Welch, like other members of his family before him, came to FAMU, where he earned an MBA. He also worked as an accountant for Florida Power Corporation. He lives in his hometown with Donna, his wife of 30 years, and their two daughters.

“I urge you to always remember, that it was folks like grandma – folks who don’t speak the best English, who never graduated college, but had more common sense than book sense, and who dealt with a level of discrimination and bigotry often at a level of threat to their very lives –it was them who made it possible for us to walk in the freedoms and prosperity that we walk in today,” Welch continued. “And just as they lifted us up to achieve our goals, we should be willing to reach back and lift up someone else. Use your God-given talents to make a difference in our families, neighborhoods, churches, and communities.”

William Pickard & RobinsonWilliam Pickard, Ph.D., received an honorary degree on Friday, April 29, 2022.

In addition to improving their communities, FAMU graduates must also be brave enough to take a stand.

“Stand for what is right, what is factual, what is fair. We live in a time when folks are working actively to strip away your rights and even attempt to change election results in front of God and man,” said Welch, who warned that even America’s democracy is at stake.  “If we will not stand up, we will lose the freedoms that so many have fought bled and died for.”

During the two-hour ceremony, FAMU conferred honorary doctorate degrees on entrepreneur and philanthropist William Pickard, Ph.D., and Otis Mason, an alumnus, retired St. Johns County educator and the first African American to be elected school superintendent in Florida. Outgoing FAMU National Alumni Association President Col. Gregory Clark received the President’s Leadership Award.

Gregory Clark & RobinsonColonel Gregory clark receives a President's Award from University President Larry Robinson during the FAMU Spring Commencement on Friday April 29, 2022.

The two Spring 2022 ceremonies featured 1,309 graduates and were the first un-ticketed commencement events since the start of the pandemic. Legions of parents, siblings and relatives filled the 9,000-seat Lawson Multipurpose Center.

To watch the Friday, April 29 Spring Commencement Ceremony, visit