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Alumni Spotlight: Cris LaNiese

Name: Cris LaNiese Smith

Major: International Studies

Hometown: Jacksonville, FL (Duval)

Profession: Professional Visual Artist

Graduation Year: 2012

Organizations Involved in: Student Govt Assoc., Delta Sigma Theta, and Model United Nations.


What attracted you to Bethune-Cookman University?

As a Florida native, I have always been aware of Dr. Bethune and Bethune-Cookman University (B-CU). During my time in high school, which was an art-focused institution with few black staff, two of the most influential faculty members were B-CU alumni. They even arranged for an admissions representative from the university to meet with all the black seniors, and our administrator, Mr. Ira Turner, generously covered our application fees. When I visited the campus, I was immediately drawn to its rich history and felt a strong sense of pride as soon as I stepped onto the quad. Bethune-Cookman has always felt like a second home to me.

If you could describe Bethune-Cookman University and your experience in three words, what would they be?

Growth, Community and Pride.

What was one of your most memorable moments at B-CU, and why?

Wow, I have so many incredible memories from my college experience. However, one moment that truly stands out to me is in the fall of 2008 when Barack Obama was running for his first term as President and he visited our school. As a member of the Student Government Association, I had the honor of leading the pledge before he spoke. It was an unforgettable feeling. To think, just a month later, this man would become the first black President of the United States, and he was on our humble campus which was founded with only $1.50. That fall felt historic in so many ways, and seeing Obama pay homage to Dr. Bethune was a beautiful moment that filled me with a sense of boundless possibility.

Was there a staff or faculty member who had the most influence on your life while you were a student at B-CU, and if so, who and why?

The staff at Bethune-Cookman University felt like family, but three individuals truly stood out to me. Professor Cheryl Long, who taught International Studies, breathed life into me with her unwavering belief in my intellectual potential. She challenged me to reach for the stars and never settle for less. Dr. Dawson, who taught religion and philosophy, showed me how to think critically and independently. He pushed the boundaries of education while remaining compassionate towards his students. Lastly, Ms. Valencia Cooper was like a second mother to me. During those formative college years, when I was transitioning into adulthood, she provided a safe space for me to express myself and offered guidance when I needed it most. She gave me the confidence to pursue my passions, even when I changed my academic course of study. Her reassurance that we all have to focus on personal growth every day still resonates with me.

How did your time at Bethune-Cookman University prepare you for graduate school and/or shape your career path?

My college experience at Bethune-Cookman University not only expanded my knowledge but also prepared me for a career as an artist. My involvement in various organizations like Student Government Association helped me to develop leadership and communication skills, which are essential in any career. Finally, the relationships I formed with my professors and peers taught me the value of networking and collaboration, which have been invaluable in my artistic endeavors. My Bethune-Cookman experience gave me the foundation I needed to pursue my passion as an artist and has played a significant role in shaping not only my career but me as a person.

What do you like to do for fun?

While I enjoy attending art shows, discovering new art, and traveling, I also dedicate a lot of time to my daughter, engaging in various activities together. However, beyond these pursuits, I am inherently introverted and relish in solitary activities such as indulging in Game of Thrones. I also cherish dining out and exploring new culinary experiences.

What advice/insight do you have for students or future students who are interested in your career field or advice on life and pursuing their dreams/passion?

If you have a passion for the arts and being a full-time creative is your dream, then I wholeheartedly encourage you to pursue it. Choosing to follow your passion and commit to a career in the arts is a courageous and fulfilling decision. Life is fleeting, and it is essential to do what you love and find purpose in your work. While pursuing a career as an artist can be challenging and may require sacrifices, the satisfaction of creating something meaningful is unparalleled. It is easy to become caught up in societal expectations and to prioritize stability and financial security, but in the end, it is happiness and fulfillment that matter the most. As someone who wishes they had taken the leap sooner, I urge you not to wait to chase your dreams. Life is too short to not do what you love. If you have a passion for the arts, go for it, and live your life with purpose and joy.

What would you tell parents thinking about enrolling their child at Bethune-Cookman University?

If you desire to provide your child with an environment that allows them to express their authentic selves, then consider sending them to Bethune-Cookman University. As an African American, there is no better time to be immersed in a community of individuals who share similar experiences and are working towards their personal and societal development. At B-CU, your child will be surrounded by like-minded individuals who will empower them to be proud of their identity, heritage, and culture. By being in a supportive and inclusive community, your child will have the opportunity to explore their interests and passions, and be encouraged to pursue their goals. Attending B-CU can have a significant impact on your child's personal growth and prepare them for a successful future in society.

Is there anything that you would like to say or add?


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