An educator whose illustrious career has spanned more than three decades and whose name will go down in history told Livingstone College students Thursday there are no dumb questions, they should be as respectful of janitors as they are board chairmen and they should take care of themselves spiritually, mentally and physically.
Dr. Belle Wheelan, president of the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges, gave a spirited speech during Livingstone College’s 134th Founder’s Day ceremony. Instead of trying to impress people with her vast knowledge, Wheelan imparted practical, yet sage advice to the college’s students, faculty, staff and special guests.
She spoke before a packed audience inside Varick Auditorium, which included Salisbury Mayor Paul Woodson, Salisbury City Councilman Pete Kennedy, Catawba College President Brien Lewis, Rowan Cabarrus Community College President Dr. Carol S. Spalding, retired AME Zion Bishop George W.C. Walker, Sr. and other dignitaries.
Wheelan was introduced by Livingstone College President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins Sr., who read a list of African-American firsts before bringing her to the podium. He began by citing Carol Mosley Braun, the first African-American woman elected to the U.S. Senate, and ended by mentioning President Barack Obama. Then he rolled off a list of accomplishments by Wheelan, the first woman and first African-American to serve as president of SACSCOC, the organization that serves as the regional body for the accreditation of degree-granting higher education institutions in the Southern states.
Wheelan set the tone for her speech within seconds by asking the students to sit on the edge of their seats before asking them to stand, raise their arms in the air and shout hallelujah. After the students sat back down Wheelan quipped, “You probably won’t remember a word I said today, but at least you can say I had you on the edge of your seats and shouting hallelujah.”
Wheelan told the students she wanted to share 10 important lessons with them and did so in a way that was simultaneously serious and vivacious.
She began by encouraging them to have goals and work hard to achieve them. Then she spoke to the importance of giving back — whether by purchasing a box of Girl Scouts cookies or by one day funding a scholarship at Livingstone. Wheelan followed those points by assuring the students there are no dumb questions. Education should be continuous throughout life, she said. “If you are lacking in knowledge you have no one to blame but yourself.”
Wheelan told the students they should always stand for something before stressing the importance of taking care of their bodies, souls and minds. For the sixth lesson she borrowed from “Life’s Little Instruction Book” and told the students to be kind to everyone, despite their positions. To bring home the point, she said college presidents are no more important than students — or other employees — at colleges or universities.
Wheelan spoke of having good manners for her seventh point, saying it doesn’t hurt to say hello to people, to speak to others in passing or to say excuse me when you have to step in front of someone.
She concluded her lessons by telling students to be proud of their heritage, including Livingstone College, to learn to laugh and not take life so seriously and to remember the word American ends in the letters i-c-a-n.
She spoke of the civil rights struggles of the 1960s, the emergence of women’s rights in the ’70s, the country’s focus on individuals with special needs in the ’80s, the way people of diverse sexual orientation began making their voices heard in the ’90s, and the concentration of issues relating to immigration in the 2000s.
“We are all Americans,” Wheelan said.
After her speech, Wheelan was given a standing ovation by the audience and a presidential award by Jenkins.
As Thursday’s program got underway, the audience rose to its fee to sing “The Star Spangled Banner” and the Negro National Anthem, “Lift Ev’ry Voice and Sing.”
Bishop W. Darin Moore, a member of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees, gave the invocation. He said there are voices in the atmosphere, including voices of violence, racism, sexism and classism. The good news, however, Moore said, is there is still the voice of God, which rings louder than all other voices combined.
Bishop Dennis V. Proctor, also on the Board of Trustees and president of the Board of Bishops, read from Proverbs, including 3:5-6 which says, “Trust in the Lord with all thine heart and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him and He shall direct thy paths.”
Greetings were given by Bishop George E. Battle, Jr., senior bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and Chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees, Dr. Carolyn W. Duncan, president of the college’s Faculty Senate for 2012-2013, Dorian R. Edwards, president of the Student Government Association, and Rev. William E. Simmons, president of the Livingstone College National Alumni Association.
Battle, a member of the Livingstone College class of 1969, spoke with loving pride of his alma mater. He also discussed growing up on a tobacco farm but achieving success despite the odds. Also during the ceremony, Roslyn Burrough, a Broadway singer who has performed for Obama and former presidents Bill Clinton and Jimmy Carter, gave a powerful rendition of “To God Be the Glory.”
Founder’s Day commemorates the life and accomplishments of Livingstone Founder Dr. Joseph Charles Price, the college’s first president. Born on Feb. 10, 1854, in Elizabeth City, N.C., Price graduated valedictorian in the class of 1879 from Lincoln University in Pennsylvania, completing a three-year theological course in two years.
Price was known as a brilliant scholar, great gospel preacher, world famous orator and advocate for the common man. He served as Livingstone’s first president for 10 years until his death in 1893.
Price’s grandson, Dr. Richard W. Sherrill of Virginia Beach, Va., his wife, Phyllis Lett Sherrill, and their son, Philip C. Sherrill, director of corporate/foundation relations at Norfolk State University, attended the Founder’s Day celebration. Another grandson, Charles P. Sherrill of Salisbury, passed away last month. A resolution honoring him was read during the event.
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