This weekend, I attended the 2012 graduation ceremony of Paul Quinn College. Paul Quinn College is a historically black college (HBCU) in south Dallas, just off of I-45 on Simpson Stuart Road. I’ve been working on a project with them through The Real Estate Council’s ALC program.
This past Sunday, the class who graduated was small, and for good reason: this was the first graduating class surviving “the scare of 2009,” when the school lost its accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools. The class was left with an option to turn their backs and walk away, no questions asked, or stick through it. Although there were transfers in this graduating class, many of them had chosen to stay.
Here were lots of awards. One of the reasons that we were invited to attend was that the TREC Foundation director was receiving a President’s award in recognition of the impact we made on the school and community through our project. Another award went to an author who had written an article to the scholastic community which was against the trends of the media – her message was this: take a look at PQC, look at its initiatives, and see for yourself what this school is going.
I don’t know what is involved in a school losing one’s accreditation, but I’m sure it’s a long process. It sounds like, when President Mike Sorrell, took over in 2007, the momentum was already against the school to the point of it being unstoppable.
But these kids chose to push on. The valedictorian was one of those people in the class who chose to push on, and it was a decision that I couldn’t imagine: he had chosen to proceed with Paul Quinn instead of TCU, then walked into an absolute mess. But things were already changing there, and maybe he saw that. He was an impressive speaker, and was rightfully proud of his story. Afterwards, President Sorrell stood and told the crowd that this student had just taken the LSAT, and he had earned on of the highest scores in the country for the year. That speaks a lot not only for the student, but his environment.
The school challenges the students on a personal level, and as an outsider, I could see it from the ceremony today. President Sorrell took it one step further, challenging the class: in five years time, he told them that they would have to raise 25,000 collectively. In return, he and his wife would personally match dollar for dollar the monies raised, resulting in 50,000 for the school’s endowment (which, at the time I first met Sorrell last year, was the smallest in the country).
“Will you commit to this?”
A few murmurs.
“OK, I’m turning to your families. Families of the graduating class: will you support your new graduates?”
a few more murmurs.
“OK, now, class of 2012, I want you to turn to your alumni, those with whom you are making a binding contract.”
I wasn’t expecting the ceremony to be outside, so I ended up pretty badly sunburned. It was about 90 degrees outside without a cloud in the sky, but at least I had the option of taking my jacket off – which the students, in full gowns, did not. Now its Thursday, the sunburn has faded, but hopefully my involvement with the school has not. It’s great to have some small part of an organization that will really make a difference in so many lives.
I’ll write about what we did on the campus… sometime later. This is already too long and there’s so much to write about.