More than 400 alumni returned to Virginia Tech for the 2016 Black Alumni Reunion, a weekend filled with activities to reconnect classmates, network with current students and alumni, and see how campus had changed since their student days.
This year’s theme of “A Silver and Gold Celebration: Treasuring the Legacy of Black Graduates at Virginia Tech,” celebrated several milestones including the 25th anniversary of The Black Cultural Center (see video); the 20th anniversary of the Enlightened Gospel Choir; and the 50th anniversary of the matriculation of the first seven black women to enroll (see video). Three of those women, La Verne Hairston Higgins, Linda Edmonds Turner, Class of 1970, MBA 1976, Ph.D. 1979, and Marguerite Harper Scott, Class of 1970, attended and were recognized with a resolution from the Virginia Tech Alumni Association.
The highlight of the weekend was an announcement by President Tim Sands that Irving L. Peddrew III, the first black student admitted to Virginia Tech in 1953, will be awarded an honorary electrical engineering degree at the University Commencement Ceremony on May 13. The former electrical engineering major was the only black student on campus his freshman year. He was required to participate in the Corps of Cadets, but was not allowed to live or eat on campus. Disillusioned with his treatment, Peddrew left at the end of his junior year and did not return.
Other weekend activities included a panel discussion with several former student athletes who addressed “Experiences During and After Virginia Tech.” Among the panelists were football player and track athlete Andre Davis, Class of 2001; track athlete Jerry Gaines, Class of 1971, the first full-scholarship African-American athlete to attend the university and the first African-American to be inducted into Virginia Tech’s Sports Hall of Fame; soccer player Jazmine Reeves, Class of 2013, the first Hokie ever drafted in the National Women’s Soccer League; basketball player and Virginia Tech’s first Olympian, Vernell “Bimbo” Coles, Class of 1990; and basketball player Britney Anderson, Class of 2007.
On April 23, five alumni were recognized with Influential Black Alumni Awards. They were Sharnnia Artis, Class of 2002, M.S. 2005, Ph.D. 2007, was named Educator of the Year. LaChelle Waller, Ph.D. 2006, assistant professor of chemistry at Virginia Commonwealth University, received the Ut Prosim Award for working to increase exposure to the sciences for students in underserved communities.
Tyrod Taylor, Class of 2011, was named Athlete of the Year. Kunmi Otitoju, M.S. 2007, was named Entrepreneur of the Year. The Outstanding Recent Alumni Award went to Apryl Alexander, Class of 2007. Greta Harris, Class of 1983, was named Philanthropist of the Year.
“This year’s reunion was an unparalleled success. The energy and engagement amongst the attendees was powerful and spoke volumes to the passion and support they hold for our beloved alma mater,” said Matthew Winston Jr., senior associate vice president for alumni relations. “Alumni volunteers, students, alumni staff, and the senior administration, from the president to the deans, all pitched in to make the endeavor a successful one. We hope to use this model to guide many constituency-based reunions in the future.”