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Virginia Tech to present honorary degree to Irving Peddrew during commencement ceremonies

April 24, 2016

Irving Peddrew portrait
Irving Linwood Peddrew III was the first African American student to attend Virginia Tech.

Irving Linwood Peddrew III, the first African American student to attend Virginia Tech and the first to attend any historically all-white four-year public institution in the 11 former states of the Confederacy, will receive an honorary degree at Virginia Tech commencement ceremonies on May 13.

Virginia Tech President Tim Sands made the announcement during the university’s Black Alumni Reunion celebration held this past weekend on the Blacksburg campus.

“Hard work, character and meaningful experience in the spirit of Ut Prosim (That I May Serve) is the essence of a Virginia Tech degree, and no one is more deserving than Irving Peddrew,” said Sands. “He chose to come here knowing he would endure exclusion and hardship, hoping his experience would make a difference for others, and it certainly has.”

Peddrew will be presented with an honorary Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering during the University Commencement ceremony in Lane Stadium. It will mark only the ninth time in the university’s 145-year history that an individual will be distinguished with an honorary degree.

An honor student at his all-black high school in Hampton, Virginia, Peddrew began his post-secondary education in 1953 as an electrical engineering major and member of the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets. He was the only black student among Virginia Tech’s 3,322 students that year.

Peddrew studied three years at Virginia Tech before moving to California to join the workforce. He did not complete his degree program at Virginia Tech.

He worked several years in the aerospace and fruit industries, at Newport News Shipbuilding, and at Hampton University before his retirement in 1994.

“Irving Peddrew displayed enormous courage as he navigated the many difficult obstacles he faced attending a historically all-white institution,” said Matthew M. Winston Jr., senior associate vice president for alumni relations. “He became a catalyst and a pioneer for desegregation, laying the groundwork for the enrollment of generations of African-American students at Virginia Tech. He placed our university on a path to fulfill its true potential to become an inclusive institution for all.”

“It has been an honor and privilege for me to meet Mr. Peddrew,” added Menah Pratt-Clarke, vice president for strategic affairs and vice provost for inclusion and diversity. “I look forward to continuing to support his very important and historical path for increasing diversity at Virginia Tech. I am thrilled that we are able to recognize his contributions to Virginia Tech with an honorary degree.”

In 2003, Virginia Tech honored Peddrew’s legacy by naming Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall after him and the late Charlie Yates, the first African American to receive a degree from the university, during the 50th anniversary celebration of blacks at Virginia Tech.

Virginia Tech’s other eight honorary degrees have been presented to:

  • (1907) John M. McBryde, Virginia Tech’s fifth president, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree.
  • (1919) Col. Richard Henry Jordan received the honorary degree of civil engineering “for distinguished service on the construction of the Panama Canal.”
  • (1929) Lawrence Priddy, a member of the Virginia Tech Class of 1897 who helped raise funds to build both the YMCA Building and War Memorial Gymnasium, received an honorary Doctor of Commercial Science degree
  • (1987) Robert B. Pamplin Sr. and Robert B. Pamplin Jr. each received an honorary Doctor of Letters degree for outstanding service to and financial support of Virginia Tech.
  • (2001) T. Marshall Hahn Jr. received an honorary Doctor of Science degree for his role in converting Virginia Tech from a small college to a major research university during his presidency.
  • (2001) Robert B. Pamplin Jr. received an honorary bachelor’s degree.
  • (2002) Clifton C. Garvin Jr., a member of the Class of 1943, received an honorary Doctor of Science degree for outstanding professional achievements, leadership, and support of Virginia Tech.
Tim Sands and Irving Peddrew
Virginia Tech President Tim Sands announced Irving Peddrew's honorary degree during the university’s Black Alumni Reunion celebration this past weekend in Blacksburg.