University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff graduates were advised to be bold, beautiful, and free Saturday during commencement exercises at the Pine Bluff Convention Center. Award-winning actress Phylicia Rashad gave this message as part of her commencement address to the graduates, lauding them as great gifts to the world. An inductee into the Theater Hall of Fame, Rashad portrayed Claire Huxtable on “The Cosby Show” and plays a recurring role as Diana Dubois on the Fox TV series “Empire.”

A 1977 graduate of Howard University, Rashad recalled the United States was undergoing tumultuous social change 40 years ago. She recalled young people working for equality and advised graduates to thank their parents and each other by giving a lion’s roar.

“This institution is more than brick and mortar, my friends,” Rashad said. “It is a living legacy, and now you are a part of it. Gratitude attracts grace: it is true.”

She apologized on behalf of her generation for what she called its missteps.

“There are things you are seeing that you should not have to see because they should not be happening,” Rashad said. “You were born at this time for a reason. You have come for a great purpose. This commencement is part of that purpose.”

Referencing Mother’s Day, Rashad shared advice that her own mother gave to her.

“Be bold, be beautiful, be free,” Rashad said. “Be bold in the assertion that all that lives is holy. Honor omnipresence in all that you see and within yourself. Be beautiful in your attempts to recognize God’s presence. When we see His presence in our own hearts, we see it everywhere.”

UAPB senior class president Evan Murry shared a student reflection with fellow graduates. He saluted his classmates for making it through in one piece and reminded them to recognize people who helped them.

“Today is a milestone for each of us and our families and it is to our loved ones that we owe our deepest thanks,” Murry said. “After today, we leave the protection of the university, the community of our friends, roommates, and teachers. We have improved the education of our peers and advanced our own knowledge. We endured, we wallowed, we revealed, and now we emerged.”

UAPB Chancellor Laurence Alexander welcomed family members, friends, guests, students, and elected leaders to the ceremony. He noted that commencement means beginning and that the Lord has created this day.

“This is the day you begin the rest of your lives,” Alexander, who has a doctorate degree, said. “And you should be proud. Today we celebrate your new beginning. We have an awesome class of students graduating today. Since the return of the nursing program in 2015, we have our first corps of nursing student graduates.”

Alexander and UAPB Provost and Vice Chancellor for Academic Affairs Jacquelyn McCray awarded Rashad with an honorary degree. The commencement ceremony included the UAPB combined bands performing “Pomp and Circumstance,” and the Vesper Choir and band performing “the Star-Spangled Banner,” and “Lift Every Voice and Sing.”

Lt. Gen. Aundre Piggee and Lt. Col. Willette Alston of the United States Army commissioned Second Lts. Tailor Collins, Debra Jackson, and Anthony Wyrick as officers into the Army. They received an ovation. Prior to the ceremony, students posed for pictures with each other and family members. A total of 288 students were candidates for either baccalaureate or master’s degrees, according to the program.