Alumni Convocation a ‘Superb’ gathering at Livingstone
By Laurie Willis
Forty years ago, members of Livingstone College’s class of 1969 were probably like most young people who had just earned their degrees:
Full of energy and ready to take on the world.
On Friday, many members the class of 1969 made one thing abundantly clear: They’re still full of energy and ready to take on the world.
In an Alumni Convocation held in Varick Auditorium, they sang, spoke eloquently about their time at Livingstone and challenged other alumni to always endeavor to give back.
“The legacy continues, and we must do our part to ensure the growth and survival of Livingstone College as we take it to the next level,” said speaker Donald Bernard, Sr., chairman of the African-American Heritage Parade Committee Inc. “This legacy is one of sacrifice. African-Americans have long made a sacrifice for education. Our parents borrowed money, mortgaged their homes ń did whatever they had to do for our education. As a result of their hard work we now have black teachers, scientists, engineers, lawyers, journalists and people in many other professions.”
Bernard graduated with honors from Livingstone in 1969 before earning his master’s degree in regional planning from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill in 1971. He was asked to deliver the convocation’s address by his best friend and classmate, Dr. William A. Bunch, chairman of the reunion committee.
“Today’s speaker is a good black man who is strong and stands up for what he believes in,” Bunch said while introducing Bernard.
Then, he got a laugh from the crowd by ribbing his friend about his college days’ attire: “In 1968 he believed in wearing pink and orange suits, and he did it.”
After Bunch’s remarks, dozens of members from the class of 1969 took the stage to deliver a resounding rendition of “To God Be the Glory.”
Bernard said he asked Bunch why he chose him to give the keynote address.
“He replied to me, ‘Why not you?’ ” Bernard said. “So as I prayed and meditated on that, what came to me was because it’s my responsibility.”
Bernard encouraged his classmates and other alums to live according to the convocation’s theme: “The Legacy Continues. It’s Still a Family Affair.”
“Many of us are no longer willing to work twice as hard to guarantee our success,” Bernard said. “To pay full homage to the slogan ‘It’s a Family Affair,’ we must continue to sacrifice.”
Bernard then recited the names of several professors who taught him and his classmates.
“What is the legacy when we think of those folk?” he asked. “That legacy still today is one of love. Homecoming is an opportunity to gather the members of our Blue Bear family to not only recall the many acts of kindness, affection, selflessness and sacrifice they gave us but to also remember those magical moments as an individual when you stood on this campus under the maples and the oaks and the zephyred breezes blew and you felt safe, you felt secure and you felt at home.”
Bernard challenged his colleagues to help instill pride in today’s youth.
“Our youth have heard, ‘Say it loud. I’m black and I’m proud,’ ” Bernard said. “We’ve said that for generations but today we must live it. Every effort must be made to teach our children how to love themselves. Our legacy has to have vision. We must let them know that we have, and they will have, the vision and courage to bring new life into the world. No matter how much money we make, no matter how beautiful our homes and our cars are, each of us has achieved something in our lives and we have to reach back and help somebody. We only hurt ourselves when we turn our back on our own. We must be our brothers’ and our sisters’ keepers.”
After Bernard spoke, he joined classmates Tom Faniel, Charles Graham and Eddie O’Neil on stage to sing “Old Man River.” Most of the 500 people inside Varick Auditorium were on their feet as “The Superbs” finished harmonizing.
Delores McDowell Johnson, a member of the class of 1969 and vice president of the Livingstone College National Alumni Association, presided over the convocation.
She introduced President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., who gave brief remarks.
“Love is not verbal. Love is action,” Jenkins said, repeating one of his favorite slogans. “The mere fact that you are here today as part of this homecoming event meant you took some action to be here. As you walk around and look around I know it conjures up memories, some good and perhaps some bad. You can look around and be proud of the fact that you went here, and I hope that’s what you’re feeling as you traverse and travel the grounds. Thank you for being here this morning. Thank you for all of the work that you continue to do to help us take Livingstone College to the next level.”
Jenkins later repeated his stance that love isn’t verbal while speaking during an afternoon homecoming committee meeting.
“I’m excited every time I get up and every time we talk about where we are and where we’re going,” Jenkins said. “I’m as excited today as I was back in February 2006 when I became president of Livingstone College.”
Jenkins talked about the college’s fiscal standing and also about some of the beautification projects on campus.
Those projects haven’t gone unnoticed.
Michael Downing, a 1999 Livingstone College graduate from New Haven, Conn., said he never misses a chance to return to Salisbury for homecoming.
“I come back to see my fraternity brothers and to see the changes they’re making on campus,” said Downing, 34, a member of Omega Psi Phi. “The changes are good. When I went here it wasn’t as lively as it is now. The fence is really nice. They didn’t even have a fence when I went here, they didn’t have the bear and security wasn’t as tight. I really like the changes.”
Downing said he’s proud of Livingstone College, which has close ties to his family. His oldest brother, Franklin Roosevelt Downing Jr., graduated from Livingstone in 1988, and his younger brother, Joseph Downing, finished from the school in 2003.
In fact, Downing and his oldest brother socialized on campus Friday afternoon near the fraternity and sorority plots in front of the old Trent gymnasium, where people grilled out, listened to music and just enjoyed catching up.
The entire week’s mood was festive as people proudly wore the school colors of black and light blue. Balloons and ribbons adorned the campus as people snapped pictures, and alumni exchanged hugs with classmates they hadn’t seen in years.
Homecoming activities conclude today with a Livingstone College Gospel Choir Reunion at 3 p.m. in Tubman Little Theater.
Laurie D. Willis is assistant director of public relations at Livingstone College.