Commencement season is highlight of year for Livingstone’s Rev. Allen
This time of the year across the country at institutions of higher learning, employees are scrambling to make final preparations for commencement ceremonies.
For some it’s a stressful, pull-your-hair-out time. But for the Rev. Juanita K. Allen of Livingstone College, it’s one of the highlights of the academic year.
You see Allen has a passion for students and helping them with writing skills, is a people person and enjoys making things beautiful, so adorning the stage at graduation, ordering flowers and using ribbon to designate special seating come naturally to her.
“Assisting with graduation was a duty that was assigned to me after I started working at Livingstone,” said Allen, who was hired in 1986. “I enjoy helping to beautify the campus for events and special affairs because I like making things festive and it gives me a lift. I know the people at Salisbury Flower Shop very well and they know me, and with their help I enjoy being able to create a jubilant atmosphere and bring the graduation stage to life by adding plants, live flowers and greenery.”
This week in addition to giving final exams to undergraduate students, Allen has been working to ensure Saturday’s commencement program, which begins at 10 a.m. and features Charlotte Mayor Anthony Foxx as the keynote speaker, is beautiful and goes off without a hitch. Foxx was tapped earlier this week by President Barack Obama to replace Ray LaHood as Secretary of Transportation.
On Monday, Allen stopped by Salisbury Flower Shop to select the black and blue ribbons she’ll use to designate special seating at commencement. She has also coordinated special requests this week; including making sure the Bishop’s Lounge is prepared and that the college’s food service company has enough bottled water on hand for commencement attendees.
Although she doesn’t mind being pulled in several different directions when the college has special events like graduation and Founder’s Day, Allen is quick to say she can always count on colleagues as well as students when she needs a helping hand.
Allen, a native of Ridgeway, has a bachelor’s degree in communications, with a minor in English, from State University of New York at Buffalo and a master’s degree in educational media technology from North Carolina Central University. Her bachelor’s degree was obtained through SUNY Buffalo’s teacher education program.
She worked as a substitute teacher for Durham County and Durham City public schools but applied to Livingstone after a friend told her about an opening. She was hired as director of the institution’s learning center and hasn’t looked back. Today her title has changed to director of the college skills program, but her duties and passion remain the same. Allen teaches students social interaction skills, how to take good notes, the proper way to study and other useful techniques. She also does testing for all entering freshmen.
“I love working with kids. That’s my passion,” said Allen, assistant pastor of First Calvary Baptist Church on Long Street. “I like seeing them when they come to the college and watching them mature and become more stable, more focused and more able to successfully operate in the college environment.”
Manuel McGriff, dean of students at Livingstone, said he enjoys working with Allen because she’s always pleasant and willing to do whatever is necessary to help the institution.
“Rev. Allen is a joy to work with because she doesn’t make excuses or complain but instead rolls up her sleeves and goes to work,” McGriff said. “She has worked tirelessly at the college for 27 years, but it doesn’t look as though she’s planning to slow down. Rev. Allen literally has her job on wheels. In her car trunk are copies of the asset freshman placement test, in her backseat are a box of calculators, in the front seat is a case of pencils and on the floor you can find convocation ribbon just about any day of the week. She’s dedicated.”
State Alexander, who has worked at Livingstone for about 21 years, said he couldn’t agree more with McGriff’s assessment.
“There is a special, spiritual glow and purpose about Rev. Allen,” Alexander said. “When you get to know her you understand her life is dedicated to helping young people shine.”
Alexander said Allen epitomizes Matthew 5:16: “In the same way, let your light shine before others, that they may see your good deeds and glorify your Father in heaven.”
He added she has a nurturing, caring spirit that helps students feel as though they have a mother away from home while they’re in Salisbury.
Allen, a widow since 1988, has a daughter, Sarita Bernadette Allen-Medlin, a supervising teacher in the Chapel Hill-Carrboro City Schools System. Her grandson, Braxton Howard Medlin, is an N.C. A&T State University graduate who plans to attend law school at Elon University.
She said it makes her feel good when students tell her she’s like their mom away from home because, “they feel love from me, and that’s how I want them to feel while they’re away from their parents and hometown surroundings.”
And she said she really feels good – and relieved – now that graduation is just one day away.