Texarkana, U.S.A. – Monday, December 16, 2013
Alumni group hosts banquet to celebrate legacy, feature students’ performances
By: Michelle Williams
The Tri-Schools Alumni Association held its seventeenth annual unity banquet Saturday evening. Graduates of Dunbar, Macedonia and Washington schools gathered to dine, reminisce and celebrate the accomplishments of today’s black students.
Event founder Morris Neighbors said the purpose of the Tri-Schools Alumni group is to perpetuate the legacy of the three former area black high schools and to promote and feature local youth in oratory and musical performances.
Theme for the event was “A Tribute to Youth.”
Dunbar alumnus Edna Smith Shepherd introduced six students, two each from Texas Senior High, Arkansas High School and Liberty-Eylau High School.
Three students spoke on a personally selected topic and three performed a favorite musical selection.
Participants were chosen based on recommendations by school teachers, counselors and administrative officials who selected each for exceptional accomplishment in scholastics, leadership and participation in church and community service.
“Let the record show you are a generation that exemplifies poise, dignity and pride. You are a generation privileged to be young, gifted and black,” Shepherd said.
Vernicia Griffie, a Texas High senior, spoke first. The title of her oratory was “When We Help Our President, We Help Our Country.”
Vernicia pointed out a constant challenge facing her generation is consideration of the well-being of the majority over service to self.
Saying the challenge presented a great opportunity for youth to serve as a positive influence in a world where self-aggrandizement is rampant, Vernicia challenged her generation to lead with humility.
“In order to better others, we have to be willing to better ourselves. Humility is one of the most valuable traits a leader can have, because it enables one to see and respond to the needs of others,” she said.
She honored President Barack Obama for demonstrating the willingness and ability to resist reacting negatively to unfair opposition, instead responding positively by continuing to promote the best interest of all Americans.
Vernicia urged young people to support positive change by following Obama’s example.
“When we help our president, we help ourselves,” she concluded.
Next up was Cortlandt Bursey-Reece, a Texas High School senior.
Cortlandt, on piano, expertly performed “The Make-Believe Rag,” written by hometown son Scott Joplin.
Toes tapped and heads bobbed to the lively piece.
Liberty-Eylau High School senior Keandra Carroll chose “My Heritage” as her speaking topic.
“The person who denies their past has no future. African-American heroes have done incredible things. They exemplify dignity, loyalty, respect and innovation. To those heroes, we are forever indebted for the struggles they overcame and the sacrifices they made. I will never forget where I originate from or what my ancestors did for me,” she said.
Recognizing valuable lessons are to be learned from her ancestors, Keandra pointed out, “Whatever a person does for themselves dies with them. Whatever she does for civilization lives on forever. I will continue to work to exemplify dignity, loyalty, respect and innovation so that the struggles and sacrifices of these trailblazers will not be in vain.”
Devon Reynolds, Liberty-Eylau High School senior, played the piano and sang a seasonal favorite, “This Christmas.”
Arkansas High School senior Clifton Harris assured the audience “Dreams Do Come True.”
Clifton lamented, “Somewhere along the way, we lost the power, the magnitude, the importance of a dream. Most people dream and stop there. They don’t take the proper steps to fulfill their dreams. Many fail to realize they are the determining factor in their success. It’s not enough to dream. You’ve got to work hard, instruct a plan and stick to it.”
Clifton cited Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as a prime example of a dreamer who, by “unrelenting insistence created a living reality for all Americans. We are living proof of his dreams today.”
Clifton said he believed the pursuit of higher character should accompany the pursuit of dreams.
“Our desires should not be just for our gain, but for the betterment of others. I dream of becoming a well-known and renowned orthopedic surgeon, and that dream will come true. Do you hear me? It will come true. But I also want to be looked up to as an example of a godly, hard-working man, like my father. I will seek to be a leader in my church and my community,” he said.
Clifton concluded his presentation urging listeners, “If you want your hopes to become realities … dream, dream, dream.”
Putting a musical exclamation point on the evening was Ashlee Hood, an Arkansas High School senior. Ashlee performed a rousing, a capella rendition of “God Bless the U.S.A.”