Remarks from Appalachian’s Commemoration of Integration event
Commemoration of Integration and Faces of Courage Award Ceremony
Friday, October 2, 2015
Holmes Convocation Center
Remarks by Sheri N. Everts, Chancellor
Today, I have the pleasure of bringing greetings to this very special and historic event for our university. In a few minutes, we will hear the stories of some remarkable individuals who changed the history of our university. We owe each of these individuals a debt of gratitude for paving roads on which the rest of us have had the privilege of walking. Were it not for their willingness to forge new paths, our university would not be what it is today. We are all truly fortunate to be in their company and to hear their stories.
During the Civil Rights movement more than five decades ago, America’s youth forced our nation to face ugly truths and to begin the process of reconciling them.
When Appalachian State Teacher’s College first became integrated more than 50 years ago, our community joined this national movement in our own way, with a dedication to eradicating egregious inequalities, with a hope of making our society more inclusive, and with a desire to make the world a better place for all of us.
It is fitting that college campuses, including Appalachian State University, continue to be a significant and important part of holding our nation accountable for institutionalized racism and acts of violence and injustice.
As our nation’s demographics change, our university population must reflect these changes. With the benefit of more diversity of thought, belief and community, we will better equip our students to live with knowledge, compassion, dedication, humility, and dignity.
The Chancellor’s Commission on Diversity has been tasked with increasing the diversity of our student, faculty and staff populations, and as a result of their efforts, specific recruitment and retention strategies are underway to meet this goal.
I am pleased to share that, through numerous initiatives, 15% of 2015’s first year class are students from traditionally underrepresented groups. This is an increase of 3 percentage points in one year. The class of 2019 is the most diverse of any first year class in Appalachian’s history. While we have accomplished much in a single year, there is still much to be done.
Our Appalachian community embraces inclusivity, but we are not without our challenges. Discussions about race and equality are not always easy ones for a community to have, but I am confident that this community truly wants to have these discussions in open and honest ways. This is hard work, and I know we as a community are willing to do it.
Alumni, faculty, staff and students all play a role in making our community a welcoming place for all. Each of us can offer support to underrepresented prospective and current students, whether it be with time and mentorship, with scholarship support, or with participation in community-building events.
As you listen to the words of these Faces of Courage Award recipients, you cannot help but be inspired by them. These groundbreaking individuals all have hopes and dreams for Appalachian’s future, which include becoming a more diverse campus. Let us honor these dreams, for we owe them a debt. The gifts they have given Appalachian by joining our community and forever changing it for the better will last long beyond any of us in this room. I ask you to listen closely to their words, take them with you when you leave today, and know that they have indeed made a difference in our campus, and in the world.
As you have heard from the stories of each of these individuals, Appalachian, even while working through challenges related to increasing diversity, has a history of being a welcoming place. This knowledge will bolster us as we continue the important work of increasing the diversity of our student, faculty and staff populations.
At this time, it is my distinct pleasure to recognize someone whose recognition is long overdue. Allow me, if you will, to begin by telling you a story:
In 1963, Patricia Ferguson was a student at Appalachian, majoring in Music Education. One of eleven children, Patricia, or Pat, as she was known to her friends, was enjoying many aspects of college life at Appalachian, including being a member of the Marching Mountaineers. It might not surprise you to learn that she was the only African-American member of the marching band at that time. As they do today, the Marching Mountaineers traveled in order to play during “away” football games, and it was during one of those trips that something rather remarkable happened, which exemplifies the spirit of Appalachian.
One evening, while traveling back to campus from a game, the Marching Mountaineers stopped to eat at a restaurant near Salisbury, North Carolina. As the band seated themselves and got ready to order their meal, one of the band members noticed their friend Pat had not been handed a menu, and asked their server, “What about her?” The reply was not one I wish to repeat, but it conveyed clearly and in very ugly language that because of her race, Pat was not going to be served in this restaurant.
Upon hearing the response, the entire band stood up, placed their menus on their tables, and walked out of the restaurant.
In relating this story, Pat Ferguson, who is now Pat Ferguson Beane, said that this experience was life-changing for her. I daresay it was life-changing for all of the white students as well. For those who took the time to really get to know Pat and understand the challenges she faced as a trail-blazing African-American during this time in the history of our country and our university, I venture to say they learned much from her.
Pat continued to face challenges while a student at Appalachian. She had to make the difficult choice to leave Appalachian so she could help support her siblings and her parents. Pat went on to have a successful career and life just down the mountain in Lenoir, but she never completed her degree at Appalachian.
There is, it appears, some unfinished business between this dedicated student and her alma mater, and so, at this time, I would like to call Mrs. Muriel Patricia Ferguson Beane to the stage so I may, after nearly five decades, present her with a well-deserved, Appalachian degree.
Muriel Patricia Ferguson Beane, by the authority of Appalachian State University’s Board of Trustees, I present you with this honorary baccalaureate from Appalachian State University. Congratulations, and thank you for being another Face of Courage for your peers and colleagues, during your time as a student, and also today.
Mrs. Beane, it is also my pleasure at this time to present you with the Alumni Association’s Black & Gold medallion. The Black & Gold medallion symbolizes Appalachian’s rich traditions of pride, excellence, and the commitment to leaving an indelible mark on the hearts and lives of each student who makes Appalachian their home. In presenting this medallion to you, we honor your invaluable historic contribution to the institution.
Pat Ferguson Beane’s story reminds us that our history at Appalachian is one of inclusivity. I know many of us have felt this over the years; however, we understand that as we grow as an institution, we will continue to face challenges.
When the late Julian Bond visited Appalachian last year, he told us that our campus must continue to honor the courage of the generations before us. He said we must face the challenges of our society with the same level of courage, and seek answers to address these challenges. College campuses are uniquely positioned to do this, and I look forward to guiding Appalachian in this important work moving forward.