Elizabeth Eckford, member of the Little Rock Nine, attended Knox College for one year between 1959 and 1960, but says she never felt like she could call herself an alum of the college. Today, Sept. 12, Chair of American Studies Konrad Hamilton presented Eckford with an honorary degree in Humane Letters at the Opening Convocation, on the lawn of Old Main.
“I came to Knox as one of nine negro students but my experiences here were extremely different from what I had been through in high school,” she said in her opening remarks. “To the freshmen: you can recreate yourself here. You can rescue yourself here.”
Eckford talked about entering Knox as a quiet freshman, and finding herself taking advantage of the theatre department. She worked in the theatre making sets for about 10 hours a week.
“I remember that I felt so privileged to be here, because of the experiences available that I had not even imagined,” she said.
She also encouraged students to seek professional therapy while in college.
“If you have suffered through trauma, don’t do what I did,” she said. “I didn’t even know that I had PTSD until I was diagnosed in 1980.”
Eckford also spoke about her speech class in high school, which was the last class of the day. She always looked forward to it because there were two students who reached out to her and spoke with her as an “ordinary person.”
“When you reach out to support someone who is being harrassed, you will help them live another day. It’s that important. We’re all responsible for the kind of community we have,” Eckford said. “Each voice is equally important. Please know that you should not just walk on by, because that makes the person who is being persecuted feel like you think that they are getting what they deserve.”
Elizabeth Eckford will be presenting a talk, “Individual Voices Matter: Civil Rights Icon Elizabeth Eckford’s Struggle for Equality and Acceptance,” at the Orpheum Theatre at 7 p.m. tonight, Sept. 12.
Several other prizes were awarded during Convocation, including the Philip Green Wright and Lombard College Prizes, which are given to faculty members who perform distinguished teaching. Assistant Professor of History Danielle Fatkin received the Philip Green Wright Prize, and John and Elaine Distinguished Chair of English Robert Smith received the Lombard College Prize.
Three incoming seniors who have already qualified for the academic honor society Phi Beta Kappa, Josh Althoff, Rebecca DiSomma, and Joseph Hilger, were also acknowledged.
The Elrbdige Pierce Prize, which is awarded to a senior who has made the greatest increase in academic performance during the sophomore and junior years, was awarded to senior Ella Thomas.
Senior Lindsey Smith received the Faculty Scholarship Prize, which is awarded to a senior who has exhibited exceptional academic ability while participating significantly in extracurricular activities.
Jason Connell, who works as a Public Service Assistant in the library and a tech in the Whitcomb Art Center, received the Janet C. Hunter Prize for hourly staff members. The Hunter Prizes are awarded to staff members who have made outstanding accomplishments and service to the College. Audio-Visual Services Coordinator Todd Smith received the Hunter prize for salaried staff.