Aimed at honoring student success and building a stronger community between alumni and current students of color and those representing various nationalities, the second annual Black Congratulatory Dinner (BCD) was among several celebratory events leading up to the university’s 169thCommencement Exercises on Saturday, May 11, 2019.
Hosted by Wittenberg’s Concerned Black Students (CBS), the May 9 dinner was well-attended with more than 200 guests. Twelve special awards were also presented, and a fundraising challenge was offered and exceeded during the evening.
“The 2019 BCD was everything that the committee envisioned,” said Julius Bailey, associate professor of philosophy and faculty director of diversity. “The addition of a live band, the beauty of the decor in the room, the participation of families and the enthusiasm of the graduates all contributed to a night Wittenberg can be proud of. Our awardees demonstrate the absolute excellence and elegance that define the best of Wittenberg University students. With the continued support of university units and individual donors, the 2020 Black Congratulatory Dinner is positioned to hold the distinction as one of our campus' crown jewels of events.”
This year 44 students who self-identify as “black” or “mixed-raced” graduated from Wittenberg, and 37 of those 44 attended the dinner. Each received a certificate during the event.
Attendees included the graduates, their family members and friends, Wittenberg faculty and staff, and more than a dozen alumni. A live band played and the Imani Gospel Choir, under the direction of Kent Brooks, kicked off the event with a performance of “Lift Every Voice and Sing.” Joshua Moore, assistant dean of diversity and inclusion, welcomed the audience, and Wittenberg President Michael Frandsen also made remarks.
Four seniors spoke about their Wittenberg experience including Corina Cleveland, a philosophy and psychology major from Hilliard, Ohio; Gloria Craig, a sociology major from Indianapolis, Indiana; Donna Hill, a sociology major from Fairborn, Ohio; and Dorian Hunter, a marketing major from Springfield, Ohio.
Others speaking at the event included Molly Fannon Williams, interim vice president of advancement and alumni relations; Wittenberg Board member Janet Jackson ’75 on behalf of Ron and Wendy Woods, class of 1969 and 1971, respectively; Raymond Jones, audio/video specialist; Mary Jo Zembar, interim provost and professor of psychology; and Bailey.
The following awards were presented this year:
- Academic Excellence: This award is presented to the student with the highest grade point average (GPA) of the graduating class. Zacchaeus Martin, a psychology major from Dayton, Ohio, earned the award with a and 3.84 GPA. He graduated summa cum laude.
- Athletics Excellence: This award is given to the student-athlete who has achieved the most recognition for their performance on and off the field of play. Isaiah Brock, a communication major and men’s volleyball player from Noblesville, Indiana, received the award.
- Bridge-Builder Award: This award is given to a student who was committed to diversity and insistent upon cross-cultural conversation across campus with faculty, students and staff. Gloria Craig, a sociology major from Indianapolis, Indiana, was the recipient.
- Outstanding Scholar: This award is given to an outstanding student with a 3.0 GPA or better, whose research has been presented in the form of a publication, public venue and/or a conference. Hill and Cleveland earned this award.
- Pan-Africanist Award: This award is given to a student whose advocacy and student leadership as an international student demonstrates service, compassion and justice across the Black Diaspora. Two students were awarded, Matilda Patterson, a math major from Chicago, Illinois, and Chris Riviére, a theatre major from Orange, New Jersey.
- “Passing The Light”: This award is given to a student of faith who exemplifies and promotes ministry in its best forms within the campus community. Daniel Lofton, a theatre major from Bessemer, Alabama, took home the award.
- Perseverance Award: This award is given to a student whose commitment to the completion of the degree, while overcoming obstacles along the journey, is awe-inspiring. Hunter took home this award.
- The “Jimmy” Williams Memorial Award: This award is given to a student/staff or faculty member who consistently goes above and beyond the call of duty to their normal responsibilities on campus. Wittenberg Audio/Visual Technician Ray Jones was presented with the award.
- Lifetime Learner: This special award is given to an exemplar of dedication as a non-traditional student. Irene Bilal-Engle, a history major from Springfield, Ohio, received the award along with a standing ovation. Bilal-Engle, who at age 78 and by all records searched, looks to be the oldest graduate ever to earn her diploma at Wittenberg.
- CBS Dedication Award: This award is given to someone whose years of service, love and dedication to Wittenberg and CBS has made this campus a much better place. John Young, former associate dean for multicultural student programs who recently retired, received the award this year.
Each award was tailored to the particular attributes of the recipient, ensuring that the award truly captured the essence of the student’s character and accomplishments. The selection committee was comprised of five students, two faculty and one staff member.
Bailey offered up a fundraising challenge to assist diversity programming for the 2019-2020 academic year, and the challenge was met.
“During the course of this year, another $5,400 was raised toward this year’s dinner with 35 donors supporting 2019 and next year’s 2020 dinner,” Bailey said. “With the continued support of university office units and more donations, we expect to fund 2020 and 2021.”
To give a gift toward diversity programming, go to https://giving.wittenberg.edu/blackcongratulatory or mail checks to: Wittenberg University, Attn: The Wittenberg Fund, P.O. Box 720, Springfield, OH 45501.