Bennett College CommencementBy Yasmine Regester / May 12, 2017
“Where you start off in life doesn’t have to determine where you are going or will end up in life. You, young women have a lot to be proud of because you are graduates of Bennett College,” said U.S. Rep. Alma S. Adams as she delivered the keynote address at Bennett College’s Spring 2017 Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 6.
Bennett College for Women conferred 77 degrees at Saturday’s graduation where Adams encouraged the graduates to follow in the steps of their predecessors.
“I congratulate you on reaching this milestone today. Remember the journey it took to get here. Someone paved a way for you and supported you. Somebody sacrificed and went without so you could be sitting in those seats today. And because of preparation meeting opportunity, you are here today,” the congresswoman told an audience of about 2,000.
Adams, a former art professor at Bennett for more than 40 years, spoke about her mother cleaning houses so that she could attend college. Born in High Point, North Carolina, Adams was raised in Newark, New Jersey. She earned her bachelor’s and master’s degrees from North Carolina A&T State University before earning her Ph.D. from The Ohio State University.
She was elected to her second term representing the 12th Congressional District of North Carolina in 2016. Adams’ political career spans more than two decades. She has served on the Greensboro City School Board, Greensboro City Council, and as a representative in the North Carolina General Assembly.
Adams, a staunch advocate for historically Black colleges and universities and a former chairwoman of the North Carolina Legislative Black Caucus, said it was time to move the conversation away from ‘why do we need HBCUs?’ to ‘what would we do without them?’
She acknowledged Bennett College’s past presidents, the late Dr. David Dallas Jones and the late Dr. Willa B. Player for their dedication to education and grooming the nation’s future leaders. She praised Player’s courage to allow Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. to speak at Bennett in February 1958 when other Greensboro colleges and businesses were afraid to host him.
“There’s a battle on the horizon and we have to sound the trumpet. As the next generation, sound the trumpet and get in the game and stay there,” said Adams, adding that part of the legacy of the Bennett Belles is always being on the front lines of history.
“Bennett Belles have always been on the front lines,” she said. “As you climb Jacob’s ladder, or Jennifer’s ladder, you’ve got to reach back and help someone else.”
Founded in 1873, and then re-established as a women’s college in 1926, Bennett College is the only historically African American women’s college in North Carolina, and only one of two in the country.
Honorary degrees were conferred upon Victor Marshand Webb of California, a retired TV producer and director who is a longtime Bennett supporter, and Dr. Gloria Dean Randle Scott, who served as Bennett’s president from 1987 to 2001. Santiba Campbell, assistant professor of psychology received the Board of Trustees Teaching Excellence Award.
“These young women are spreading their wings. You will create new learning spaces that encourage innovation. You have had struggles but you overcame. Today, we the trustees and faculty at Bennett College release you to fly,” said Sen. Gladys A. Robinson (NC-28), Bennett College Board of Trustees chair and a 1971 Bennett graduate.
Interim President Dr. Phyllis Worthy Dawkins also announced a $1.5 million campaign to fund the Johnnetta Betsch Cole Scholars, named for the 14th president of the college, who served from 2002-2007. The Honors Residence Hall will also be renamed after Cole.
“What an extraordinary honor it is to be here with women I both respect and admire,” said Cole to the crowd of graduates. She told the ladies to keep flying high and to go for their dreams.
Two other former Bennett College presidents were in attendance at the commencement ceremony – Dr. Esther Terry, who served from 2012-2013 and was the first alumna to lead the institution, and Dr. Rosalind Fuse-Hall, who served the college from 2013-2016.
Valedictorian Chelsea Moore, a Nashville, Tenn. native who earned a degree in journalism and media studies, sent her fellow graduates off with a message.
“As we prepare to step out of this oasis, we don’t know what awaits us, but we know we can handle it. I challenge each of you to always walk in your purpose.”