The Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture in Washington, DC, served as the venue for a memorable night celebrating the achievements of PVAMU graduates from across the nation.
Prairie View A&M University’s alumni reception, presided over by President Ruth J. Simmons, was held on Saturday, June 15th. The event featured an overview of the African American Studies Initiative by professor Melanye Price, the presentation of the Distinguished Alumni Award, a sword presentation by graduates of the PVAMU Navy ROTC program. Guests were allowed time to tour the museum privately, rounding out the evening.
“In planning this event, I thought, what would be so wonderful and delicious for Prairie View A&M Alum? What else, but a night at the museum. You, of course, start with a gathering like this, but most importantly, you have the museum 100% to yourselves,” said President Simmons.
Over 300 alumni and friends were in attendance to revel in the history of the contributions of African Americans, acknowledge the trailblazing efforts of our alumni, and inspire a new generation of leaders to be the change.
On the program, Endowed Professor of Political Science and the Principal Investigator for the recently established Andrew W. Mellon Foundation African American Studies Initiative, Melanye Price, spoke about utilizing University archives as a teaching tool. In particular, she addressed the importance of ensuring current students understand the history of the university and its part in liberating minds. She expressed gratitude and spoke in high regard of the group of first students to attend then Alta Vista Agricultural and Mechanical College of Texas for Colored Youth.
“Guarded by the old oaks that dotted the now campus of Prairie View A&M University, these men [Unknown 8] transformed the soil where their ancestors suffered under the peculiar institution of slavery, into fertile intellectual ground that would become the training ground for black farmers, teachers, nurses, and engineers,” Price said of the school’s role as the first state-supported college for African Americans in Texas.
Efforts to infuse PVAMU’S curriculum with an understanding of the history of the university are crucial to Price’s ultimate goal of ensuring students know about their past, so they can better prepare for their future.
“Just as the museum tells the story of African Americans in this country, we must encourage the serious and critical story of African American history and culture in our curriculum for our students,” said President Simmons.
Price was surprised by President Simmons after her speech when she was presented with the Distinguished Alumni Medal, the highest honor bestowed upon an alumnus. “We are proud to welcome this outstanding scholar, this exemplar of the best of Prairie View back to the university, “ said President Ruth J. Simmons. The Distinguished Alumni Award honors alumni who have contributed greatly to the reputation of the University through their professional accomplishments, personal conduct, exemplary service, and continued dedication to the University.
A perfect example of the importance of teaching history and preserving culture came in the way of the presentation of Captain Wendell C. Chin, Sr.,’s USMC sword to the Smithsonian’s National African American Museum of History and Culture.
“The ceremony today is an occasion that I never dreamed of 50 years ago,” said Chin, Sr.
The sword represents the completion of the first four-year Naval Reserve Officers Training Corps (NROTC) program at a historically black institution in the United States. Engraved with the inscription “50th Anniversary PVAMU NROTC”, it was presented to Chin upon his commissioning in recognition of his leadership abilities, academic excellence, and selection as the NROTC Unit Midshipman Battalion Commander of his NROTC class of 1972.
Not only will this artifact serve as an inspiration for those who aspire to military service, but as a reminder of what the first NROTC class at Prairie View A&M University had to overcome– namely doubts by Navy leadership at the time that a Historically Black Institution could effectively produce successful naval officers.
“This is has been such an incredible experience! Having the opportunity to meet and greet other alumni, tour the museum and marvel at the accomplishments of my university is truly an experience I’ll never forget,” said LaKatheryn Shaw, class of 2004 graduate.
Thanks to the efforts of those present at this reception, there’s no doubt that future alumni– and the events held in their honor– are sure to be a success.