Founders’ Day Celebrates Teaching and Learning
By Auburn Mann
A blended array of figures from Bowie State University’s past and present let their voices ring at the s 147th Founders’ Day ceremony on April 16. The theme “Living a Legacy of Teaching and Learning” was reiterated through several alumni and student speakers.
Miss Bowie State Michelle McCleary 2011-2012 and Miss Bowie State University 1968-69 Dr. Annette Stone-Blake delivered the welcome. In “adhering to West African Akan and Ashanti tradition, Stone-Blake asked the elders in the audience for permission to speak. She then reflected on her time as a student at Bowie State in the late 1960s, a time of “segregation, protests, [and] the assassinations of many prominent figures.”
During his greeting, Alvin Pindell (’71), first vice president of the National Alumni Association, compared life to a relay race saying, “each generation running its set leg. However, don’t drop the baton, and pass the baton to the next generation in a better fashion than you received it.”
After a brief memoriam for those of the Bulldog family who passed away within the last academic year, Mr. Bowie State University Matthew Riley lll took the stage with a message centered on the relevancy of the Historically Black Institution in the 21st century.
“What happens when you remove the HBCU?” he asked rhetorically, “an institution that is akin to the heart in the human body, which the HBCU is to the African-American community. In the human body the life product of the heart is blood and the product of HBCU is the students.”
Riley then went through prominent HBCU alumni such as Phylicia Rashad, James Weldon Johnson, Oprah Winfrey and Martin Luther King Jr. “If they erase HBCUs now, they erase the relevancy of you and I?”
The keynote address given by Dr. George C. Simmons, who has recently been compiling a book, documenting the narrative of Bowie State University from 1865-2010, and as a result, was asked by President Mickey L. Burnim to speak at the event.
A native of Barbados, Simmons finished his undergraduate education at Emmanuel Missionary College now Andrews University. He later earned a master’s degree from Northwestern University, and a post–graduate diploma in philosophy of education at St. Andrews University. He went on to receive a doctorate in history and philosophy of education from Harvard University. Simmons came to Bowie State University as the institution’s official historian after a tenured position at State University of New York at Brockport.
A caramel-colored man, Simmons rose from his seat on stage and advanced towards the podium with at a gradual pace.
“Faculty and administration, faculty over administration,” he quipped in a lilting Caribbean accent. “Above all, I address the students, who unfortunately are so few here today, however, that’s still enough to carry a message.”
Since he attended mainstream universities, Simmons acknowledged that “I had to learn to be black academically.” However, he continued “by virtue of two children I support black institutions. In fact, I told them that would be the only way I would financially support [their education]. As a result they both attended Hampton.”
“I’m a Bowie Bulldog. I can tell you this by the affection I’ve received around campus. I have several nicknames ranging from grandpa, dad, to the elderly gentlemen, and I accept them all,” Simmons said. “I identify myself with students, elementary school to post doctoral class level. I love young people and I rather think they like me.”
Simmons said he always asks Bowie State student the same question: What are you doing here? “One young man stated he was studying to be an engineer in order to make money.” A young woman said her ambitions were “to work with and help people and improve society through social work.”
Thus using this as an opportunity to highlight his perceptions of the general differences between men and women college students as to which is more socially conscious , Simmons said. “I’ve concluded that the young women are more sensitive to the needs of society than the young men. I challenge young men to get on it.”
Simmons noted that the theme of this year’s Founders’ Day was “Living a Legacy of Teaching and Learning.” However, he said, “in practice I’ve taken notice that a lot of learning is being done without quality teaching, and a lot of teaching is being done without learning. Both are essential in this process we call education. Speaking as a teacher, the vitality that passes from you to the students is a reciprocal connection.”
To make Bowie State University “the envy of not only this state, or this nation, but the envy of the world,” Simmons suggested implementing joint appointments where students can take advantage of opportunities of dual degrees. For example, he said, a student majoring in economics or history could also enjoy the opportunity of being trained as a teacher. “This will erase the growing sense of isolation in education.”
After pausing for a brief moment, Simmons acknowledged that he had gone over is allotted speaking time. “I must adhere to the limits given to me and obey my superiors,” he said, referring to President Burnim who sat next to the speaker’s podium. “Time is a thief, and therefore, it looks like it is time.”