By Kimberlei Davis
The Times and Democrat
Claflin University’s homecoming week culminated on a high note on Sunday as the 2013 Founder’s Day Convocation speaker, Dr. Steve Perry, electrified the crowd when he said, “each one of us is blessed and cursed with vision. …You were given something that you are supposed to do and nobody else can live out that dream but you!
Addressing the audience at the Tullis Arena in Claflin’s Jonas T. Kennedy Health and Physical Education Center, the author, activist and education contributor for CNN and MSNBC delivered the thought-provoking message that “twice as good is not good enough.”
Perry said that according to the nonprofit organization Stand Up for Children, it will take 248 years to close the achievement gap between African-American students and white students.
Perry offered advice to faculty, staff, students, alumni and supporters of the university that gathered to hear how the former Upward Bound student made it to international acclaim.
“The bigger you are, the more people there are to look at you,” he said. “The more you dare to dream beyond what is typical, there will be people to say there is something wrong with you.”
Perry said, “If you allow your pursuit of external validation guide you down a road to nowhere, it will take you just there.”
“I submit to you twice as good is not good enough,” he said. “There will be people so committed to an old idea of what you should be able to do, that everything you do will be in question … so being pretty good will keep you pretty unemployable. We are in an international race, at neck-breaking speed.”
Dr. Henry Tisdale, Claflin’s president and an alumnus, said the university’s goal is to ensure that students are prepared and equipped to excel beyond global demands.
“We are on an upward trajectory,” Tisdale said. “The aim is preserving the legacy, sustaining a commitment to academic excellence and achieving the vision of Claflin University being recognized as one of the premier undergraduate and teaching universities in the world preparing effective and visionary leaders with global perspectives.”
Tisdale said the 144th founders Day was a celebration of “a tradition of excellence and the prospects of a richer and more invigorating future.”
The university is being recognized regionally and nationally for “academic excellence, conducting cutting-edge research, attracting and retaining faculty and enrolling students who excel in academic pursuits,” he said.
Orangeburg Mayor Michael C. Butler, also an alumnus, said “I will do all that is within my power to ensure that this university and all other institutions of higher education are recognized as being invaluable resources in this community.”
Butler said Tisdale’s vision is ambitious, but realistic.
He said that the future “will only be limited by our vision and our imagination.”
Dr. Leonard Pressley, an assistant professor of biology, said “Each day we (faculty) dedicate our effort, knowledge, time, resources and sometimes our last nerve to ensure that each student we encounter at this great institution will one day attain the very pinnacle of their potential.
“We are proud to engage these students, because it grants us the opportunity to not only leave a lasting impact on them, but to also have a hand in exacting lasting change on the world at large.” Pressley is also an alumnus and faculty representative to the Board of Trustees.
According to statistics, the chips were already stacked against Perry.
He was a minority, born into a third generation of poverty to a single mother on her 16th birthday.
Against those odds, Perry was determined to “start a school in the hood even with people genuinely laughing and now saying that it’s an anomaly.”
For Perry, his start was not going to be the end of his story and he encouraged the audience to not doubt the possibilities of what can be.
Founder and principal of Capital Preparatory Magnet School in Hartford, Conn., Perry’s school is ranked as one of the nation’s best by U.S. News and World Report.
Since its inception in 2006, his school has sent 100 percent of its predominately low-income, minority, first-generation high school graduates to four-year colleges and universities every year.
“What makes you amazing, beautiful and talented is God’s gift to you, what you do with that gift is on you,” he said. “Because on the other side competition waits, they are waiting and they have no excuses and neither should you.”
The 2013 recipient of the Bythewood Award, named after trustee Thaddeus Kinloch “T.K.” Bythewood, was Zeus Inc. founder Frank Tourville. John Worley, CEO of Zeus, accepted the award on his behalf.
The 2013 Founder’s Day Report summary of total giving during the period of Jan. 1 to Oct. 15 was $5,855,033.