I am especially proud of the growth of the WCU Alumni Association Scholarship Fund. We had almost 30 percent growth during the last two years, and this growth has offered us the opportunity to award four scholarships annually. Also, I’m proud of the formal establishment of the WCU African American Alumni Society and introducing our new chancellor, Dr. Kelli R. Brown, to our alumni base in 2019 through a series of very well-attended Welcome Tour stops.
The biggest challenges were the passing of Chancellor David Belcher in 2018; the on again/off again chancellor's search; and certainly, the current COVID-19 crisis.
I enjoyed being back on campus to represent the Alumni Association for significant gatherings, reconnecting with old friends and making new friends of alumni who I did not know. I enjoyed meeting faculty and staff and continuing to be impressed with how passionate they are about providing the best education they can for WCU students.
Surprises? The campus has always been a thing of beauty nestled in the Great Smoky Mountains. The university leadership continues to put forth the best effort to make it even more beautiful. The Millennial Campus and the new residence hall (Levern Hamlin Allen Residence Hall, named after Western’s first African American student) are state-of-the-art and will be advantageous in the recruitment of new students.
First, I see opportunity to increase engagement opportunities with our young alumni. Next, I see the need to increase engagement opportunities with affinity groups, such as African American alumni, Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians alumni, Latinx alumni, military alumni, Greek alumni and parents. And third, I see opportunity to increase in our overall engagement with our alumni through various digital platforms. We are starting to see marked improvement in all three areas with recent hires of Toni Nelson, assistant director of young alumni and student engagement; Elizabeth Qualls, coordinator of alumni affinity programs; and Melanie Vick, alumni digital media associate.
Debbie and I are adjusting, just like many others who are adapting to a new way of approaching life. Being recently retired, we see it as “retirement to the second power,” except that our travel options are extremely limited – like to a trip down to the mailbox and back. Seriously, we are making more contact with friends by phone, social media or Zoom. And, we’re sharing meaningful conversation about life and such. We're hoping that everyone is taking advantage of this time to rest and recharge themselves for what we hope to be better versions of ourselves.
I am a black man, and I have lived the life of a 66-year-old black man. What I see today is what I’ve seen all my life. And the accumulation of daily micro-aggressions based on my skin color by people who know me and don’t know me takes a toll. The protests and even the violence are the overflowing results of being fed up with the status quo. Many black people have figured out how to navigate the world every day, and they have to train their children so they might move forward. I have figured out how to navigate the world without showing my frustrations. The challenge is, as a black person, you never get a pass. If I get pulled over by the cops, I have to figure out how to do everything perfect. I have a son and two grandsons, and it hurts my heart that they will experience the same circumstances that I have. I’ve told my son, if you ever get pulled over by the police, do everything they tell you to do. I want you to come home. I don’t want my next visit with you to be at the jail house or, even worse, the morgue.
The university is so supportive now of all students to the tune of putting staff members in place at all levels to make sure all students are successful.
I would tell him to continue to have great confidence in Western Carolina's administration and staff to be supportive of the Alumni Association efforts. They are exceptionally good at what they do and bring perspective and wisdom to all the issues we face. I know that Neal will do an outstanding job of leading our group and representing us well at every level.