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Hooks to Grads: ''Vote, dream, try, believe & persevere''

May 21 - Civil Rights Leader Rev. Benjamin L. Hooks urges 231 Berea College seniors to “vote, dream, try, believe and persevere” during Berea College's 134th Commencement.

The Reverend Benjamin Lawson Hooks, civil rights leader and retired executive director of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), urged 231 seniors yesterday to “vote, dream, try, believe and persevere” – five words illustrated from the lives of American leaders ranging from Frederick Douglass to Branch Rickey, at Berea College's 134th Commencement during the College’s 150th anniversary year. Hooks, whose grandmother was a graduate of Berea in the 1870s, also received an honorary doctor of laws degree from the College.

Annual awards to outstanding graduates and faculty also were presented. The Hilda Welch Wood Award for outstanding achievement by a female in this year’s graduating class went to Izabela Luckiewicz of Bialystok, Poland. Luckiewicz, a political science major who completed degree requirements in December. The T.J. Wood Award for outstanding achievement by a male student, went to Shane Arthur Garver of Burton, Ohio, who received a bachelor of arts degree in physical education.

Berea’s highest faculty honor – the Seabury Award for Excellence in Teaching – was presented to Dr. Dawn Anderson, associate professor of Biology and chair of the Biology Department. Anderson has been a member of the Berea faculty since 1992.

Winner of the Paul C. Hager Award for Excellence in Advising was Dr. Michael Panciera, associate professor of Agriculture and Natural Resources and department chair, who joined Berea’s faculty in 1998. Music professor John Courter received the Elizabeth Perry Miles Award for his numerous contributions to the campus and community as an organist, carillonneur and composer and for volunteer service with Madison County’s public radio station, during the 35 years he has been a member of Berea’s faculty.

Earlier in the day, the Reverend Dr. Daisy L. Machado, Vice President of Academic Affairs and Dean of Lexington Theological Seminary and an ordained Disciples of Christ minister, spoke to the graduates and their families at the morning Baccalaureate Service, in Phelps Stokes Chapel. The traditional Nurses Pinning Service for nursing graduates and their families took place at 9 a.m. in Union Church.

Lifelong civil rights activist Benjamin L. Hooks served as national executive director of the NAACP from 1977-92. He also was the first African-American appointed a criminal court judge in Tennessee and the first African American appointed to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).

Benjamin Hooks' grandmother Julia Britton Hooks was a trailblazer as well. She was only the second black woman in America to graduate from college when she earned her degree from Berea in 1874. A musical prodigy, she was the first African American on Berea’s faculty, teaching instrumental music while she was still a student. Hooks also was a charter member (1909) of the NAACP, the world's largest and oldest civil rights organization that her grandson would later lead.

A native of Memphis, Tenn., Hooks graduated from Howard University in 1944. and earned his law degree from DePaul University in Chicago in 1948. He returned to Memphis to set up his law practice and also became ordained as a Baptist minister, preaching in a local church.

During his early career, Hooks participated in ground-breaking NAACP restaurant sit-ins of the 1950s and 1960s as well as other boycotts, and he joined the Southern Christian Leadership Conference along with Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. During his tenure on the FCC, Hooks addressed the low number of minority employees in the broadcasting industry, the lack of minority ownership of television and radio stations and the image of blacks in the media. During his 15 years as executive director of the NAACP, Hooks helped revive membership in the organization, which more than doubled during that time. When he retired from the position at age 67, Hooks resumed preaching in Memphis and teaching at Fisk University as a professor of social justice. He currently serves as adjunct professor in the political science department at the University of Memphis.

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