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A Marvel to Behold

September 28, 2011

I sat there in the expansive and ornate ballroom next to my husband with about 800 other HBCU conference attendees listening, in sheer rapture, to every word of the incomparable and iconic Dr. Johnnetta Cole, as she delivered the dinner address in Washington, D. C.  She spoke to us of academic excellence of the need for continuous improvement, and shared with us our past successes exemplified by our graduates.

This woman with 51 honorary doctorates was a marvel to behold-- a master of communication who could deliver an hour-long speech in just the right conversational tone to keep an audience of HBCU elite hanging onto her every word, words that rang true with the intellect and passion of an inspirational teacher seasoned with the appropriate moral certanity of a righteous pastor. At the end of her speech, she was rewarded with a heart-felt standing ovation with some even wiping tears from their eyes, and others looked around to verify that they had indeed witnessed this American s-hero blessing us with the depth and breadth of her lifetime of learning, giving, and loving.

This was certainly not the first time that we had been in the company of this extraordinary American woman. We met her while serving in slightly different roles in higher education in North Carolina at the University of North Carolina at Wilmington.  At that time, our daughter was about six years old, and Dr.  Johnnetta Cole, who was the  Commencement Speaker and then president of Spelman College, stopped amidst the news media and those seeking to wish her well to take our daughter's hand and to invite her to join the young women at Spelman College when she was old enough to attend. Our daughter smiled, and even though years later it was too hard to resist Chapel Hill, she remembered that regal woman who had held her hand, and invited her so elegantly to a special place called Spelman.

Some years later, my husband and I again were privileged to attend a celebration of her years at Bennett College, as Dr. Julianne Malveaux assumed the presidency. Again, her intellect mixed with humility was warmly captivating.

Indeed, as I commence my fifth year as president of Cheyney University, Dr. Johnnetta Cole continues as an example for me of inspirational and authentic leadership-- the kind of leadership that alters and saves lives.  As we develop our living and learning communnities at the University, it is especially critical for me to create the sense of a place where students can develop both academically and socially into competitive citizens of the world.  I know Johnnetta would expect no less than excellence from those who are charged with guiding today's youth into tomorrow's leaders.

Thank you, "Sister President!"

Michelle.

Michelle Howard-Vital, Ph.D.
President
Cheyney University

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The fact that I have taught under both of your leaderships tells me that you, Sister President, are on your way to be a Johnnetta Cole and much more; I left Bennett for A & T as Dr. Cole was coming in and seeing the two of you together just brought a smile to my face on a Saturday afternoon. I should read these blogs more often! Adeyiga
 
Dr. A. 1:48PM 12/10/11

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