TUSKEGEE, Ala. (April 4, 2012) — Visions, old and new, were shared and celebrated during this weekend’s Founder’s Day celebrations at Tuskegee University. Alumni and university supporters visited the campus Saturday and Sunday for a host of activities that honored the academic, musical and historical legacies of Tuskegee as well as founder Booker T. Washington. Activities included an alumni banquet and a production of the off-Broadway play “Black Angels Over Tuskegee.” Alumni also gathered for a memorial service to honor class members who have died, including former alumni affairs director Willie Burnett, former Alabama A&M University president Richard Morrison and attorney Jock Smith.
On Saturday morning, Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon addressed members of the alumni classes and university staff in the Kellogg Hotel and Conference Center at Tuskegee University. The president spoke about the state of the university and detailed the current capital campaign to raise a quarter of a billion dollars. Rochon said his vision for the much-needed campaign began before he was hired. He said he saw that a campaign was necessary to help the university build upon its rich heritage and advance to new heights.
“We could no longer rest upon the laurels of a 15-year-old campaign,” Rochon explained to the audience.
As part of achieving new heights, the president said it was essential that the university complete a number of objectives that include: capitalizing on its academic strengths, becoming more global, increasing research, growing enrollment and preserving the university’s architectural legacy. Also, Rochon said the university must have learning and housing facilities to attract the best and brightest students who have become accustomed to amenities offered at competing universities.
“We have to accommodate contemporary student needs,” Rochon said. “In addition to that, we have to have modern classrooms.”
Rochon said the alumni are key to aiding the university’s advancement and can help in numerous ways besides financial contributions. He said alumni can help the university by donating services or property, helping the university to meet future donors or corporate partners, and reconnecting with absent alumni.
“There are some lost sheep out there. We need you all to be good shepherds,” Rochon said with a laugh. “Go out there and bring them back to the fold.”
Legacy of music
Archivist and adjunct history professor, Dana Chandler, spoke on Tuskegee’s musical legacy in the University Chapel on Saturday afternoon. In a presentation filled with slides of archived artifacts, Chandler explained that the university has a rich history that continues to greatly contribute to American culture during the 2012 Dawson Lecture.
“We have so much to offer… It makes us something special, something different than all the rest. It’s amazing to me to be a part of this place,” Chandler told the students and staff gathered in the chapel.
The lecture honors William L. Dawson, a legendary composer and arranger of Negro spirituals. During his tenure (1931-1955), Dawson helped the Tuskegee choir rise to new levels of renown.
Chandler told the audience that Dawson, who is most known for his “Negro Folk Symphony,” left a legacy of rhythm in his music that can still be felt in modern times through the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir. He also said the composer’s life held lessons about perseverance for students.
“Stick with it; that’s what Dawson taught us,” he said. “It took more, but you accomplished more. You become more.”
Later that evening in Logan Hall, the Tuskegee Golden Voices and choirs from around the Southeast honored the life of Dawson in song. For the 21st year, the William Levi Dawson Institute for Classical and Folk Music held a concert featuring Dawson’s work.
The Golden Voices Concert Choir, the Tuskegee University Alumni Choir and the Tuskegee University Concert Band performed along with visiting choirs from Alabama State University, Claflin University and Clark Atlanta University. The evening featured soaring performances of Negro spirituals arranged by Dawson such as: “There is a Balm in Gilead” and “In His Care-O.”
Marvalene Hughes returns
On Sunday, alumna Marvalene Hughes said her time spent as a member of Tuskegee’s choir gave her valuable insight.
“I spent about 10 percent of my life up there where you are now,” Hughes said as she turned to the choir members behind her. “…And it paid off because it enabled me to understand what leadership is about.”
Hughes gave the address during the 95th Annual Founder’s Day Convocation in the chapel and was the recipient of the Booker T. Washington Legacy Award. Hughes, who served as president of Dillard University and University of California Stanislaus, respectively, thanked Tuskegee for helping to shape her into the leader she has become. She said she will continue to be involved with the university and support its president.
“I want you to understand how fortunate we are to have Dr. Rochon and how fortunate we are with the vision and leadership that he is bringing to this university,” Hughes said.
With alumni help, Hughes said Tuskegee could become the premier university in Alabama. To underscore that, Rochon announced that Hughes has donated funds to help establish an undergraduate research program at Tuskegee.
“Let’s celebrate our accomplishments, but let’s look forward to the future of what we can do together. And, I’m here for you,” Hughes told the audience.
The alumni classes of 1932, 1937, 1944, 1947, 1952,1957,1962,1967 and 1972 also celebrated their reunions during the weekend. At the convocation, representatives from the classes presented a total of $382,554 in gifts to the university.
“I am very grateful for your strong and unwavering support,” Rochon said. “Everywhere I go in the United States and abroad, Tuskegee University has the reputation that has been built upon a solid foundation.”
Alumni classes listen to addresses during convocation in the chapel on Sunday.
Wayne Barr (left), director of the Tuskegee University Golden Voices Choir, and Dana Chandler, university archivist, speak at the William L. Dawson Lecture held on Saturday afternoon in the University Chapel.
The Tuskegee University Golden Voices Concert Choir and Concert Band perform during the Dawson Concert Institute for Classical and Folk Music in Logan Hall.
Marvalene Hughes delivers the Founder's Day Convocation address in the University Chapel on Sunday.
Hughes receives the Booker T. Washington Legacy Award. From left: Tuskegee University Board of Trustees Chairman Charles E. Williams, Dillard University President Emerita Marvalene Hughes, Tuskegee University President Gilbert L. Rochon, Gwendolyn Butler (Lewis Adam's — who helped secure the initial funding for Tuskegee — oldest living relative) and Robin Washington Banks (Booker T. Washington's great granddaughter).
Alumni donated a total of $382,554 in gifts to the university during Founder's Day activities.
© 2012 Tuskegee University