May is the month for graduations, which probably makes May the month with more speeches than any other month of the year.
This week I spoke to the graduating class of Ozarka College in Melbourne. And all over the state, we have high schools graduations as well.
I don’t remember what the commencement speaker said to my graduating class at Springdale High School in 1968, but I do remember who did the speaking.
It was Lieutenant Governor Maurice “Footsie” Britt, who was an important figure in the history of our state. He served with Governor Winthrop Rockefeller, and each was the first Republican elected to his post after Reconstruction.
Footsie was born in Carlisle, but his family eventually moved to Lonoke, where he was high school class president, valedictorian, and captain of the football, basketball and track teams. He played football and basketball at the University of Arkansas. Then he played professionally for the Detroit Lions before he enlisted in the Army and fought in World War II.
His military record was exemplary. He earned the Distinguished Service Cross, the Silver Star, the Medal of Honor, and after he lost his right arm in combat, a Purple Heart.
No commencement is more important than your own, but some graduation ceremonies have significance beyond the immediate graduates.
One of the most important in Arkansas History is the Central High graduation of 1958, just months after crisis of 1957 when the Little Rock Nine were the first African-Americans to enroll there. In the spring of ’58, Ernest Green, one of the Nine, became the first African-American to graduate from there. Martin Luther King was in the audience that day.
Another milestone commencement was the 1952 graduation of Edith Irby Jones, who was the first African-American to graduate from the University of Arkansas Medical School.
Some graduating classes became noteworthy after the fact because of the success of one of its members, such as Ernest James Harris who graduated from North Little Rock in 1947. Mr. Harris, who died in Hawaii in February, was an internationally known and highly regarded entomologist. He would have turned 90 on May 24.
Mr. Harris was a pioneer in what he described as ecological entomology. His method of integrated pest management employed holistic, biological controls.
We will have to wait and see which graduating classes of 2018 produce an Ernest Harris and become notable beyond their campus because of the graduate’s accomplishments. But don’t measure your life by whether anyone outside of your family and school know what you accomplish. You already have accomplished much by sticking with your education and graduating. Your diploma is evidence that you have made a good start.
Congratulations. Arkansas is a better state because of what the Class of 2018 already has accomplished.