Prairie View A&M University’s 109th Summer Commencement will occur on Saturday, August 8, 2020, at 10:00 a.m. The commencement speaker is Robert Ryan “Robbie” Tolan, a PVAMU alumnus. Tolan’s story is one of tragedy and, ultimately, triumph.
Tolan’s academic journey at PVAMU began in 2006. He majored in criminal justice and was a member of the PVAMU baseball team. After a championship baseball season at PVAMU in 2007, Tolan decided to pursue a professional baseball career. He was signed by the Washington Nationals organization that same year and played baseball on three of their affiliate teams. Subsequently, he played in an independent baseball league.
In 2008, while visiting his parents for the holidays in Bellaire, Texas, Tolan was shot by a police officer during an encounter in his parents’ driveway. The police had falsely suspected him and his cousin of vehicle theft. The bullet that initially penetrated Tolan’s lung traveled to his liver and is still lodged there today.
The police officer who shot Tolan was charged with aggravated assault by a public servant. He was acquitted of the charge in 2010. Tolan’s family filed an excessive force federal lawsuit and later settled the case. Tolan’s precedent-setting case (Tolan v. Cotton) has been pivotal in helping people with police brutality cases since the U.S. Supreme Court issued its historic decision in 2014.
In December 2019, Tolan earned a bachelor’s degree from Prairie View A&M University in criminal justice. Tolan is the author of a book, No Justice: On White Police Officer, One Black Family, and How On Bullet Ripped Us Apart. He is also the founder of Project 1231, a foundation that assists victims of police brutality.