Comin’ Back for More
It was 1955. Dwight D. Eisenhower was president. “Rebel Without a Cause,” “Lady and the Tramp” and “Bad Day at Black Rock” were big at the box office, and “Maybellene,” “Mystery Train” and “The Ballad of Davey Crockett” were topping the charts.
In Tennessee, not a single graduate school was admitting black teaching students. But at the all-black elementary school where she was teaching second grade, Velma Jones learned from her supervisor that there were alternatives.
“She told me that you could petition the state to pay for graduate school elsewhere if no school offered what you were looking for,” recalled Jones (M.A. ’57) during Convocation week in May at TC’s third annual Golden Anniversary brunch for alumni who graduated 50 years ago or more. “She’d gone to Teachers College that way, and she said I could do the same.”
No one thought that Jones, who’d attended a small black college, would be accepted to an Ivy League school.
“But I was, and I went for three summers, and I enjoyed every one of them,” said Jones, who went on to become the first black classroom teacher elected to serve as president of the Tennessee Education Association – service that earned her special recognition from President Barack Obama during Black History Month in 2014. “The first year I lived at a women’s dorm with most of the black folks, but the next two years I lived in International House and made connections with people from all over the world. I loved the College and the experience of seeing what integrating was really like. And I learned that people are really no different from one another.”
More than 30 alumni from around the country who graduated from TC 50 years ago or more attended the Golden Anniversary brunch to make new friendships, renew old ones and swap stories. They ate in Everett Lounge, were welcomed by administrators and students, and then – wearing gold-colored robes -- marched at the first of TC’s three 2017 master’s degree ceremonies.
Jeffrey Putman, President of TC’s Alumni Association, said he was “proud to be involved in this tribute to members of America’s Greatest Generation.”
TC Provost Tom James told the attendees that “The legacies of excellence you have forged in your careers and your years of experience and wisdom are valuable TC assets.”
And TC Student Senate member Nick Moran, calling the day was “an amazing opportunity to have people from our past, present and future in one place.” described his own quest to build on those legacies.
“It was within these walls that I was able to deconstruct the internalized messages I received growing up that a queer person was not enough,” he said.
Others celebrating Golden Anniversaries had brought their legacies with them. For example, Myron Phillips, who received his TC master’s degree in student personnel administration in 1960, was there with his son, Kevin, who holds a TC doctorate in religion and education; his daughter-in-law, Sarah Prescott Phillips, Administrative Coordinator for TC’s Community College Research Center, whose TC master’s degree is also in student personnel administration; and his daughter, Deborah Phillips Lauer, who earned her law degree from the University of New Hampshire.
Myron Phillips talked about his TC days – he studied with Donald Super, R.L. Thorndike and other luminaries – and his 43-year career in education, which included “teaching everything from second grade to reform school” as well as 24-years as a nationally certified school psychologist at Harpursville, New York, Central School.
Deborah Lauer said how tremendous it was to have a father who was a school psychologist. “You encouraged all of us to go to college,” she told him. She turned to others at the table. “We never had a choice, he was taking us on tours when we were in elementary school.”
Myron Phillips waved a hand. “I’m their father. Anything they did wrong was my fault, anything they did right, it was their mom.” He grinned. “Hey, I’ll never make a million bucks, but my kids are all well-fed and well-educated. You’ve got all these kids today who think they’re entitled to a well-paying job just because they’ve got a degree. They never learned the two basic rules: Rule One, the boss is always right, and Rule Two is when in doubt, refer to Rule One.”
Published Wednesday, May 24, 2017