Claflin Honors Golden Class of 1965

May 11, 2015

Photo of class of 65 taken in 2015The annual President's Luncheon honoring Claflin University’s Golden Class of 1965 on Friday, May 8, provided classmates an opportunity to reminisce and renew relationships. Held in venerable Ministers’ Hall as part of Commencement Weekend, the luncheon celebrated alumni who graduated from Claflin University 50 years ago.  Included in the class is Dr. Henry N. Tisdale, who returned to his alma mater as the University’s eighth president in 1994.

The room was filled with energy and anticipation. The honorees were introduced with a red carpet entrance and a pulsating soundtrack that made it difficult for them to resist expressing their own sense of rhythm and style before they were seated. Dr. Juanita Johnson delivered the occasion and provided the appropriate tone and perspective for the event.

"The purpose of this weekend is to rekindle the same spirit we once enjoyed at Claflin, while re-establishing our link with the university. We stand today on the shoulders of the professors that nurtured us," said Johnson who currently serves as an administrator with the Prince George’s County Public Schools of Maryland. "But they also empowered us to dream and to excel and face the challenges of the world.  We will reflect on the Claflin University from 1965.  But just look at her now and the transformational changes that have taken place under the leadership of one of our very own classmates – Dr. Henry N. Tisdale.  We are very proud of him but we are not surprised at what he has accomplished."

The Reverend Thomas M. Tillerson provided the invocation which was followed by musical selections by vocalist Sha 'Leia James ('15) accompanied on the piano by Keith Walls ('16).

Georgette Clemons McKenzie, Arthur Knowlin and Tryphenia Sumter Speed provided reflections which focused on the academic, cultural and social environment that existed during the period of their Claflin experience.                 .

"I came to Claflin as a valedictorian from Bonds - Wilson High School (North Charleston, S.C.) said McKenzie.  "I thought I was pretty smart.  But I soon found out everybody here was smart."

"My proudest moments were when I opened Cecil William's book (Men of Vision: Claflin College and Her Presidents) to the page where there is a photo of me leaving jail after being arrested during a protest march. On the next page is a photo of an empty classroom at Claflin that was featured in Jet Magazine.  It was empty because everybody else on campus was also involved in the demonstrations."

McKenzie earned a bachelor's and a master's degree.  She taught school before embarking on a civil service career in Europe and Central America.

"I knew I was going to Claflin.  My mother graduated from Claflin so she made sure of that," said Knowlin.  "This is a wonderful institution. Claflin enriched me so that whatever I do, Claflin is in my heart and in my mind.  "Claflin taught me to live a balanced life, self-discipline and to set goals for yourself.  It gave me the ability and courage to succeed." 

Knowlin earned a bachelor’s degree in biology.   His career included 25 years as a micro-biologist and he served as director of Waverly Residential Center in Philadelphia, Pa.

"I was successful because of what I learned at Claflin,” said Speed.  "I thank all of you who shared so much and let this shy girl from Sumter, S.C., come into your lives."

Speed graduated with a bachelor's degree in mathematics.  She held several management positions with the Social Security Administration from September 1965 until her retirement in November 2003.

"Much has been said in our reflecting the time we spent here. But we must also remember President Manning -- Claflin's sixth president at that time," said Tisdale. "We were not burdened with the challenges he faced of keeping the school moving forward. He also encouraged us to participate in the struggle for equal justice for all."

Tisdale acknowledged and presented gifts to Elizabeth Rose, Jean Harper, Marian Anderson and Cecil Williams who were on the faculty or staff at Claflin in 1965.

Tisdale also listed the numerous changes in the appearance of the campus, including new residence halls, renovated classrooms, pedestrian thoroughfares and other improvements. 

"We were students at Claflin during the time of civil rights movement and we were engaged in the quest for equality and justice," said Tisdale. "As we look around the country today, there are a lot of similarities."

Tisdale concluded by applauding the 30-plus members of the Class of 1965 for surpassing the previous number of Golden Class participants

The Golden Class of 1965 presented Tisdale a proclamation in recognition of his transformational and visionary leadership as president of Claflin University. He also received a proclamation from the City of Orangeburg. Class members received the Golden Diploma during Commencement Convocation Saturday.

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