Honorary Degree Presentation to Elizabeth Eckford
Knox College confers an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree to civil rights icon Elizabeth Eckford, a member of the Little Rock Nine.
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June 15, 2018
Members of the Knox College Class of 2018 who are first-generation college graduates received special recognition at a reception honoring them and their achievements. The "First Gen Reception" took place in Alumni Hall on June 2, the day before Commencement.
"During your journey at Knox, you have had many supporters—faculty, staff, friends, and family. We come here together to celebrate with you and to join with you in thanking everyone who has helped to make your success possible," President Teresa Amott said at the reception, which was attended by graduating seniors and their families and friends.
The main reason for the gathering was "to tell you how very proud of you we are," President Amott added. Commemorative pins that were given to first-generation graduates at the reception are "tokens of our esteem for you and all you have accomplished."
Jessie Dixon-Montgomery '89, associate professor and Burkhardt Distinguished Chair of Modern Languages, also spoke at the reception and pointed out that she, too, had been a first-generation college student and could relate to some of the graduates' emotions.
"As the first person in my family to attend and graduate from college, I was grateful, excited, nervous, and proud," said Dixon-Montgomery, who earned her bachelor's degree in Spanish at Knox. "I felt these emotions the day I arrived and the day I marched across the stage to receive my degree."
She recalled feeling grateful to everyone who encouraged and supported her and grateful for the education she received on campus and through the Knox in Barcelona program. At the same time, she was nervous about life after Knox, which she called "the great unknown."
In concluding, she quoted Kwame Nkrumah, who led Ghana to independence in 1957 and served as its first president: "Forward, ever. Backward, never."
Two graduating seniors and first-generation students, Jennifer Gonzalez and America Salgado, presented prepared remarks to their classmates.
"I know for many, including us, it hasn't been an easy road. But yet, here we are, soon to be graduates of the class of 2018," said Gonzalez, who majored in Spanish. "As I stand here in front of you all, I see the strength and determination within each of you."
Jennifer's parents, Carmen and Sergio Gonzalez, said later that they are proud of their daughter's achievements.
Having a college degree leads to better opportunities in life, opens more doors, and provides the tools needed for success, Carmen Gonzalez said. "Education is the basis of life," Sergio Gonzalez said, adding that it equips people to face the world without fear.
Salgado, in her remarks at the reception, pointed out that first-generation students like herself often face struggles and doubts, but persist through the obstacles and challenges. "The thing that alleviated all that stress was turning to my community here at Knox," she said. For her, that community included the Success program and the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity.
Salgado, an anthropology and sociology major, added that her family often uses the Spanish-language expression, "Ponte las pilas," literally, "Put on your batteries."
"To me, it means a lot of things, like get your act together, work hard, learn as much as possible, and take advantage of every opportunity," she said. "Today, I stand here and can say ‘Me puse las pilas.' I put on my batteries. We all did."