TUSKEGEE, Ala. (April 7, 2013) — Alumni and the university community united to remember Tuskegee’s founder during a weekend packed with events celebrating the institution’s past and future. The alumni classes of 1933, 1938, 1943, 1948, 1953,1958,1963,1968 and 1973 also celebrated their reunions this weekend. Today at the 96th Annual Founder’s Day Convocation, representatives from the classes presented a total of $497,684.44 in gifts to the university.
Luther S. Williams, provost and executive vice president, delivers his address in the University Chapel.
Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon
From Left: Tuskegee University Board of Trustees chair, retired Maj. Gen. Charles Williams; Luther S. Williams and Gilbert L. Rochon.
Visitor views artwork in the Legacy Museum.
During his convocation address, Luther S. Williams, Tuskegee’s provost and executive vice president, reflected on the lessons taught by founder, Booker T. Washington, and the university’s first benefactor, Lewis Adams.
“Without question, the founders were visionaries. But not simply because they could perceive the future,” he said in the University Chapel. “They were more because they elected to brilliantly explicate vision into reality.”
Williams also said understanding the price of greatness is a key lesson left by Washington and Adams. He said the men were pioneers who broke rank with a culture of mediocrity in America when they sought to establish a school for black students to better themselves.
“With audacity, be decidedly unapologetic in your reach for achievement and sustaining excellence,” Williams said.
He said knowing how to handle challenges and working toward adding value to one’s surroundings are key to being successful. He also urged the students in the audience to not settle for ordinary during their time at the university.
“The world is not interested in C’s. That is a fundamental, foundational understanding,” Williams said. “I would argue to make an art form out of such average performance not only is counter to your interests, but is disrespectful of the incredible work of the founders of this place.”
After his remarks, Williams was presented with the Dr. Alfred Batini Xuma Award for Contributions to Higher Education and Social Mobility by Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon.
More improvements to come
On Saturday morning, Rochon addressed members of the alumni classes and university staff in the ballroom Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Tuskegee University. The president spoke about the state of the university and detailed the current capital campaign. Despite a national recession and the need to invest funds in major campus facilities improvements, Rochon said the university is on a strong footing.
“The endowment is $117 million. It’s the highest than it’s been in our history,” Rochon said.
He also said the university will continue to be aggressive in its pursuit of scholarship and grant funding to help increase enrollment and improve the overall infrastructure. Rochon said impending improvements include the construction of a new veterinary medicine hospital, a 500-bed dormitory and renovations for Banneker and Bethune halls.
Honoring the legacy
Saturday afternoon, the university’s Legacy Museum showcased new and old exhibitions during its first donor reception and tour. The fundraiser to help support preservation of fragile artwork in their collection introduced its “Friends of the Museum” donor program. The event also helped to educate visitors about bioethics dilemmas, health care disparities and unfair medical research practices of the past.
Among the museum’s collection are exhibits about the United States Public Health Service Untreated Syphilis Study in Macon County, Alabama. Dorothy Williams, Class of 1953, was a nursing student that participated in the syphilis study and seeing the exhibition brought back memories and powerful emotions. She said patients in the study who were ill were never properly medicated instead the doctors would prescribe orange juice with extra sugar or aspirin.
“I feel betrayed,” Dorothy Williams said. “You were just carrying out medical orders. It was not told to us until many years later what actually was happening.”
Jontyle Robinson, curator, said many who were affected by the study visit and are moved by the information they find in the exhibition and that the museum has a dual purpose.
“[The Legacy Committee] wanted to preserve the memory of the study, but they also wanted to provide an opportunity for research and study.”
Also Saturday, the life and legacy of William L. Dawson were celebrated with a lecture and concert. Dawson, a legendary composer and arranger of Negro spirituals, helped the Tuskegee choir rise to new levels of renown during his tenure (1931-1955).
Former Tuskegee professor and blues musician, Richard “Lozelle” Jennings presented the 2013 Dawson Lecture in the auditorium of the Kellogg Hotel. Jennings, who taught English, shared in-depth details about the late Dawson’s upbringing that were told to him by the composer during his 85th birthday celebration. Titled, “Patience, Perseverance, Progress and Pride - Lessons of the Early Life of William L. Dawson,” Jennings’ lecture expanded on Dawson’s youth as the ignorant and cloistered son of a sharecropper who had to outwit his father to secretly pay for a basic education and his eventual escape to Tuskegee. At age 13, Dawson ran away from home after years of running errands for change to fund a train ticket to the institution.
“In coming here, he found his place. He found his direction,” Jennings said.
Later, the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir joined the Tuskegee University Concert Band and several choirs from surrounding Historically Black Colleges and Universities in a concert at Logan Hall. The Golden Voices performed Dawson’s arrangements of “There’s a Lit’l Wheel A-Turning in My Heart” and “Ev’ry Time I Feel the Spirit.”
To see more from this year’s Founder’s Day celebration, go to Tuskegee University’s official Facebook page
At the 96th Annual Founder’s Day Convocation, representatives from the classes presented a total of $497,684.44 in gifts to the university.