2 Michigan COVID-19 victims to get posthumous degrees

Kim Kozlowski
The Detroit News

Darrin Adams donned a green cap and gown and a big smile three years ago when he participated in commencement exercises at Oakland Community College.

Adams, who was on OCC's dean's list when he earned his associate's degree, then began studying at Wayne State University, with a goal of earning a bachelor's degree for a career in sociology.

Darrin Adams

But Adams' dreams were cut short when he succumbed earlier this month to COVID-19.

He was only a few classes away from earning his bachelor's degree so he and another coronavirus victim, Western Michigan University student Bassey Offiong, are getting their diplomas in spite of their untimely deaths.

Wayne State is planning to bestow Adams' degree during its virtual commencement ceremony on Wednesday, in addition to two other students who died of other causes before graduation. Meanwhile, WMU officials said they have let Offiong's family know that he will be getting his degree posthumously too, but it is unclear when. 

The honors come as graduation season for the Class of 2020 is underway and universities are hosting alternative celebrations to mark the milestone in spite of the pandemic. 

The WSU board approved the three posthumous degrees prior to its regularly scheduled board meeting, officials said Monday. 

During a recent interview, Wayne State President M. Roy Wilson said Adams, who worked as a custodian on campus to make ends meet, had good grades and was close to finishing his degree.

"It’s the right thing to do, he was so close and if this didn’t happen, he would have within months gotten his degree," Wilson said.

Adams was a member of the AmeriCorps Urban Safety Program, and helped  board up more than 200 abandoned houses in Detroit, according to Lyke Thompson, a WSU political science professor and director of the Center for Urban Studies. In that role he was responsible for the planning, preparation and implementation of boarding up vacant and abandoned homes in Detroit neighborhoods.

"This work is done to improve public safety, in particular along pathways walked by students each day to neighborhood schools," said Thompson. "Darrin took time to ensure that all efforts to secure these structures were appropriately designed for strength and durability, and that the work was carried out in a manner safe for all participants."

"Darrin consistently demonstrated a professional work ethic of diligence, timeliness and quality outputs," Thompson said. 

Adams was planning to continue his education and help others.

"After achieving my bachelor's degree, I plan to keep striving for my masters degree and start my career," Adams wrote on his Linked In page. "My passion is to help others realize that their dreams are capable of coming true with hard work, discipline, faith, and the belief in self. ... " 

Universities and colleges were among the first to respond to the rapidly spreading novel cornonavirus in early March. Most Michigan schools asked students to leave campus as they shifted to online instruction.

Even so, college and university members contracted the virus. Adams is one of the few college students who are known to have lost the battle to COVID-19, along with Offiong, a Detroit resident who was studying to be a chemical engineer.

Jen Lendrum, a former Wayne State graduate teaching assistant, had Adams in her introduction to sociology class in 2016 and remembers him well because he was a nontraditional student who showed up to class still in his WSU work uniform.

"He was committed to the job and to his education," said Lendrum, who is now at Aquinas College in Grand Rapids. "Going back to school at a later point in time is an act of courage."

Dwayne Carrero-Berry

Besides Adams, WSU will award posthumous degrees to Dwayne Carrero-Berry, who will receive a bachelor of arts degree in psychology with minors in Latino/a and Latin American studies and peace and conflict studies. He was diagnosed with a heart disease at the age of 19 and died in December 2017.

Bri'Jon Moore

Former Wayne State student Bri’Jon Moore will receive a bachelor of science degree in psychology. A psychology major, Moore dreamed of applying to nursing programs after she graduated. She died Feb. 4 at the age of 22.