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Dean praises 'firsts' at Black Excellence Banquet

Following an address by the first black student ever to attend Elon, Dean Paul Parsons told more than 300 students and parents at Elon's 10th annual Black Excellence Awards banquet to honor those who have the determination to be first and to strive for their own form of excellence.

The main banquet speaker on April 20 was Glenda Phillips Hightower, a retired nurse living in Durham, who in 1963 became the first black student at Elon. She left Elon after a year and a half to get married, and years later earned a degree at the University of Iowa.

Following the presentation of achievement awards to almost 100 black students, many of them students in the School of Communications, Dean Parsons noted in final remarks, "It is important to look back at those who paved the way for today, and it's equally important to look ahead, making sure each of you make a difference in the world to come."

Parsons told the students that Mrs. Hightower, in a sense, is part of their life story, and he connected his own life story to nine black teenagers who were the first in another context.

"The year was 1957, and those teenagers were called the Little Rock Nine," Parsons told the audience. "When they volunteered to be the first to integrate a public school in that city, the segregationist governor called out the National Guard to block them. President Eisenhower sent federal troops to Little Rock to ensure integration. The next year, the governor shut down the school to thwart integration."

Parsons was 9 years old, living in Texas, when his father was asked to become the new superintendent of schools in Little Rock. His father had successfully integrated white and Hispanic schools in Texas, and now Arkansas wanted him to peacefully integrate their schools.

"So I grew up as a teenager in Little Rock, with TV cameras on our front lawn and reporters calling our house for interviews - and reading the hate mail that my Dad received from segregationists," Parsons said. "Growing up in the midst of media scrutiny led me to a career in journalism. If prior events shape who we become, then my life was shaped in part by nine brave black teenagers who were the first."

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