Cheyney University Blog

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 Howard-Vital, Ph.D.
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

It Changed Everything

September 19, 2011


Like many Americans, it is hard to reconcile that it has been ten years since September 11, 2011.  Also, like others, the memories surrounding those days are excruciatingly seared into my memory.

On September 10, 2001, I drove from Wilmington, North Carolina to Cullowhee to participate in a retreat of the North Carolina State Board of Education.  The drive in the car was long and almost surreal.  I remember driving from the ocean to the mountains  and becoming overcome by the beauty, the greenery, and the peacefulness of it all– many good resolutions were made on that trip.  I have taken similar peaceful and serene drives in Pennsylvania from Erie to Philadelphia, when visiting my dad who was undergoing chemotherapy.  Such drives seem to wipe the slate clean, and it is hard to escape the intensity of the beauty-- little “pieces of heaven...”

On September 11, the retreat was scheduled to commence after breakfast.  I remember walking down a long hall towards the meeting room.  There were large clear windows, so it was like being inside and outside at the same time.  The closer I came to the end of the hall, the more I began to sense something was not quite right.  The other retreat participants were eerily quiet, and all faces were turned towards a large television screen.  I remember asking someone, "Is this really happening?”  She nodded silently.  As a group of about twenty of us watched the horrific events on the large screen, some cried, some turned away in disbelief, and others could not look at anything but the screen.

While still in shock, I began to think about my 11 year-old daughter in middle school and my husband.  Was my mother alright?  I searched for a place to get a good cell phone signal.  When I reached my husband, his calm voice reassured me, "everything is okay here.  Nothing has changed here." But it had.  Life had changed everywhere!

Somehow, I drove with several people from Cullowhee to Raleigh, NC. Although we took turns driving and somehow arrived at our destinations, the car must have driven itself because I do not remember anything but arriving home, so relieved to be with my family again.

For days afterward as the death toll climbed, we watched as so many brave Americans risked their lives to save others– complete strangers.  Through the toxic cloud hanging over the mass of broken concrete and twisted steel that was the World Trade Center, what did become obvious was that the American spirit had not been broken.  We could and would stand together to rebuild, to remember our heroes and heroines, and we would do it together.

Together, we would triumph!

Ten years later, those sentiments are needed more than ever as so many Americans struggle to feed their families, to remain in their homes, and to hang onto just a little piece of the American dream.  The collective "we" is still urgently needed as we continue to build a more competitive America– one student at a time, one community at a time, and one state at a time.

Together, we will be victorious!



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