Dillard University commemorated its 135th anniversary on Oct. 17in Lawless Memorial Chapel. Proud parents filled the pews as thefaculty and seniors filed in to begin the ceremony.
The chaplain of the senior class, Troya Ellis, blessed the eventbefore Dr. Bettye Parker Smith, interim president, introduced thepurpose of the occasion- to reflect on Dillard’s history and theprogress that the school has made since its birth.
The event was special for many reasons. Besides paying homage toDillard’s history, it was also the first time the seniors werepresented to the public in their caps and gowns.
“This is the first appearance of seniors in our caps and gowns,”said Elaina Forest, a senior biology and chemistry double major.”This marked a symbolic and glorious moment of our agony andecstasy.”
Brandon Bowers, president of the Student Government Associationand Morjoriee White, Miss Dillard 2004-2005, gave a history ofDillard’s commitment to excellence in education in the Founder’sDay Tribute.
The Dillard University Choir followed the tribute with arendition of “Shut De Do” led by Shearon Roberts, a senior masscommunication major, and accompanied with interpretive dance bysophomores Lauren Forman and Cecilia Maxwell.
The highlight of the event, however, was the address by Dr.Beverly Guy-Sheftall, an Anna Julia Cooper Professor of Women’sStudies at Spelman College and a member of the Dillard Board ofTrustees.
Guy-Sheftall gave a poignant speech titled “HBCU’s: The Agonyand the Ecstasy,” in which she described the joys and pains ofHBCU’s and what Dillard needs to do to continue the traditionof excellence in the 21st century.
The ecstasy of attending an HBCU is that it is still the mostconsistent source of black leadership as exampled by the manyalumni who came to visit the campus this Founder’s Day weekend.
HBCU’s make up 15 percent of the colleges and universities inAmerica, and produce 30 percent of the black Bachelor of Artsdegrees in the country. Fifty percent of students who pursuepost-graduate studies come from HBCU’s.
“They provide quality education and a solid foundation forstudents who might not be able to ordinarily afford it, and showAfrican American men and women that there are no limits to whatthey can learn and become,” said Guy-Sheftall.
But there is an agony according to Guy-Sheftall; HBCU’s facecompetition from larger schools. While Dillard stays in pursuit ofquality teachers like Horace Mann Bond and Elizabeth Catlett,faculty stays over-worked and underpaid with inadequate facilities,she said.
Guy-Sheftall made the reference to a slave owner who said”Knowledge and slavery are incompatible.” Dillard continues tofight mental slavery through education, but cannot do it withoutproper endowments and support from alumni and corporatesponsors.
Her solutions to these problems were simple and straightforward.Dillard must embrace change and be aggressive in the search forfederal research funds. It must continue its collaborations withother colleges and acquire and sustain adequate financialendowments, and this can be achieved by securing a president who isaggressive in his or her stance for continually improving Dillard.She ended her speech by urging minority students to vote and make achange.
The event ended with the singing of the Alma Mater andbenediction delivered by the Gail Bowman, university chaplain whilethe choir sang “Lord Make Me More Holy.”
As the faculty and seniors made the recessional out of thechapel it was obvious that the event provoked time forreflection.
“It reinforced the history of Dillard University, and remindedus where it came from,” said Omar Acres, a senior biologymajor.