To The Class of 2021

This is what I would want to share with the matriculating bears when the current students of Shaw University have graduated and/or moved on to other experiences and the events of what happened the week before Easter weekend in 2011 are nearly forgotten.

To The Class of 2021,

Just around the time you were enjoying the spoils of sixth grade spring break, former students were counting on two more weeks and a final exam to give them that extra umph. While you were lying your way through social networking activation sites, students before you were trying to find the truth through the chaos of half-truths and retweeted rumors. As you were wishing your parents would just leave you alone, students who carried the keys in your pockets were just wishing for a way home.

I can’t begin to describe what Shaw University was like before the storm.  Before the tornado came and ripped trees from roots, the tree that stood as guard over Henry Martin and Sarah Tupper. I don’t know how to articulate the spirit of Shaw, like many HBCU’s on ‘fried chicken Wednesday’ or ‘fried fish Friday’ when the lunch line spills out into the yard. The yard that is glass and debris ridden, outside of the café that served boxed lunches today. ‘Cold cut Wednesday’ just doesn’t have the same ring.

The rhythm of this institutional body moves to a beat that courses through the anatomy of other HBCU’s and like veins from one heart we dance to music that is felt and not heard. We sing to beats that are innate not synthetic and when it is time to sing together, our harmonies ring as one.

Yet, we are not just a historically black university; we are a world of academia. Often, that label diminishes ones capacity next to our predominately white institutional counterparts. Shaw is an association of scholarship. The essence of this first-rate, first built, first choice institution of higher education is inhaled in the air between its buildings on a crisp fall morning, its spoken in the language between student and advisor over plans after graduation, its understood in the movement of a young man who removes his hat and pulls up his pants in one motion as if rehearsed for eighteen years before.

This is not the most devastating event to happen on the campus of Shaw University; thankfully, all lives were spared but this was the most devastating to happen to the campus.

I am looking for the lessons to be learned from what took place on Saturday, April 16th, 2011, the tenth birthday of my oldest son. The tornado changed Shaw University. Students began to respect the opportunity of life more. One young man said to me on that Sunday morning “I would give anything to just have no AC again.” Staff began to show genuine compassion for one another. A staff member said a few days after the storm “I never even thought to ask if one of our own had losses.” Faculty began to understand that student affairs and academic affairs were a successful marriage not a dysfunctional family. A professor stated during a walk across the bridge after discussing a particular student “I can’t believe I never knew she was dealing with all of that and I’ve been her advisor for three years.”

To be honest, I was questioning my place at Shaw University. I was starting to wonder if my talents would be better fitted elsewhere. I was asking for answers and I believe now more than ever that they were answered that day. Somewhere in the tears of scared students with no way home and frightened parents thousands of miles away, I found may way home…right where I was.

So take a deep breath and inhale the past. Learn from it. This is not the new Shaw University. This is the same Shaw there always was. This is the same Shaw there always will be. The spirit has always been here, it just needed to remind the students of 2011 who they were and who they were meant to be.

Don’t you forget it, or else…


3 thoughts on “To The Class of 2021

  1. Maturity and growth can both be very subjective ideals. In response to your comments on the Shaw University and it’s presence in the heart of downtown Raleigh, the aftermath of the Tornado of April 16, 2011 was just a reminder of what is and always will be, Shaw University, an icon. Shaw is in the heart of Raleigh, NC because since it’s inception it has become the “heartbeat” of the importance of everyday life for many students, past present, and future. Now we can all give ourselves time to think about what is important and why we have our individual relationships with Shaw University.

    Katie Givens Palmer
    Alumni-Class of 2007

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