Dr. William Sutton, a Dillard alumnus, former faculty member and president emeritus of Mississippi Valley State University, encouraged honor students to choose careers they would enjoy because it’s more likely that they would be good at it.
Sutton, who was the featured speaker at the 2010 Annual Honors Convocation program on Feb. 11, advised students to “build their character” as he did while attending Dillard. Sutton addressed about 300 people in Lawless Memorial Chapel, including about 100 honorees.
The program recognized 350 honor students for the fall 2009 semester and 335 from spring 2009 for earning a grade-point average of 3.0 or higher. For fall, 158 students had a 3.5 or better (Dean’s List); 99 had 3.2 to 3.49 (Honor Roll); and 93 had a 3.0 to 3.19 (Honorable Mention. In spring 2009, 162 made the Dean’s List; 83 were on the Honor Roll; and 90 received Honorable Mention.
Sutton recalled serving as president of each class except for his freshman year. He said that when he arrived as an 18-year-old freshman 60 years ago, “My hope was that they could make something out of me. I’ll let you decide whether they did.” The audience applauded in response.
He said that unlike Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas, “I had a lot of people pulling on my bootstraps. People at Dillard showed they cared for a poor boy out of Mississippi.”
For example, he said, his dorm director tried to fix him up with girlfriends, and Dr. Albert Dent, who was DU president for 20 years, later hired him on the faculty, encouraged him to leave to get his doctorate and then rehired him.
Sutton graduated from Dillard in 1953, then earned his master’s and doctoral degrees at Howard University. After serving at Dillard and other universities, he became president of Mississippi Valley State for 10 years.
He urged students to become involved in the recruitment effort, noting he encouraged several family members to follow him to Dillard.
“If you have a good experience, tell everybody,” he said. “I tell everybody I’m from Mississippi, and I graduated from Dillard. I challenge you to carry that message as you go.”
He also advised students to become team-oriented. Knowing how to work well with people is a good skill to have in the workplace, said Sutton.
Sutton said that no matter how far a graduate may rise and where he or she may go, “Dillard will still be your mother.”
Sutton also gave a short history lesson on how Dillard became a school through the merger of New Orleans University and Straight College. He noted the efforts, including important financial support, from New Orleans banker Edgar Stern and his father-in-law, Chicago philantrophist Julius Rosenwald, head of Sears, Roebuck and Co. Stern was the first president of Dillard’s board of directors.
“The reason we have Jewish names on these buildings is because these Jewish families saw us through the hard times,” he said.
Dr. Marvalene Hughes, DU president, reminded the students, “Others have mentored you,” and then asked, “Who will you mentor? For whom will you be a role model?”
(David Pittman contributed to this report.)