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McNair Scholars honored at ceremony

Zenobia L. Hikes
6:13 p.m., Aug. 13, 2004--Zenobia L. Hikes, vice president for student affairs and dean of students at Spelman College in Atlanta, told a group of promising young scholars at UD to follow their purpose with certainty, resist mediocrity and accept challenges with grace in all endeavors.

Hikes made her remarks as keynote speaker during the fifth annual McNair and University Undergraduate Scholars Achievement and Celebration Dinner, held Thursday evening, Aug. 12, in Clayton Hall.

Named for Ronald E. McNair, an African-American astronaut who died in the explosion of the Challenger space shuttle in 1986, the UD program helps students from diverse and disadvantaged backgrounds get into graduate programs of their choice and obtain funding. The University Undergraduate Scholars program is modeled on the McNair program.

Hikes, who was introduced by both UD President David P. Roselle and her daughter, Amber, a UD junior in the McNair Scholars Program, gave the students advice based on her experience as a leader, a university professional and a single working mother.

An administrator in student life at UD from 1992-99, Hikes also addressed her gratitude and loyalty to the University.

“I will always be indebted to the University of Delaware,” Hikes said. “When I came here in 1992, I was recently divorced. I’d driven to Delaware from Louisiana with two small kids in the back of my car and a hope and a dream. Here, the trajectory of my career was realized. I had exceptional professional experience for seven years. I had good friends, colleagues and a support system that enabled me to finish my doctorate. I am very honored to be here tonight, in a place I consider my adoptive home.”

Hikes, who has lectured widely and provided commentary to CNN, NBC News, CBS News, Fox News and several other national television and radio stations, began and ended her address with motivational cheers that received standing ovations from her audience.

“I’m very familiar with how fierce the competition is to get into the McNair Program, so I recognize the tremendous amount of dedication it has taken and I commend you on this,” she said.

“I must also commend you on overcoming the many challenges you have faced to get here, especially in light of an America that often celebrates mediocrity and that is becoming less and less intellectualized. You must know that those standards cannot—and should not—be the standards for you.”

Hikes remembered Mr. McNair and his legacy to students by quoting him. “Ron McNair said, ‘Before you can make a dream come true, you must have one,’ she said.

“Each of us is here on this planet, in this place, at this time, following a calling that leads to a purpose,” Hikes said. ‘You must live your lives with purpose!”

While taking nothing away from the triumphs students had achieved under their own steam, Hikes went on to stress that social obligation is the price tag for brilliance, and she charged students to share their knowledge and serve as role models.

Kaneisha Trott and her mother
“There was a struggle to get you here,” she said, “and each of you has an obligation to be great. McNair students are bright and talented and critical thinkers, but critical thinking can’t be limited to the classroom. The world is waiting for you, and you must not only prepare yourself, you must also serve as role models and prepare others. I charge you to live your life fully and practice being a lifelong learner,” Hikes said.

Roselle also encouraged students to serve as role models, mentors and lifelong scholars by urging them to consider careers as professors.

“As you plan your career, you might think about becoming a faculty member of a university,” he said. “It’s a great choice, because everyone you work with is smart. And, I hope you would also think about returning to the University of Delaware, because we’re always looking for talented faculty who are familiar with the campus.”

Maria Palacas, director of the McNair Scholars Program, likewise emphasized the importance of sharing scholarship and the way the McNair Scholars Program made this possible for students.

“Because our students are bright, highly motivated and conscientious, they take full advantage of the numerous academic opportunities the UD McNair Program offers them, and their success is reflected in the program's record of achievement, as well as their leadership within the academic and local communities,” she said.

After the remarks and dinner, selected faculty and scholars were called to the podium to accept achievement awards. The recipients and their honors are listed below.

2004 McNair Scholars Program Faculty/Staff Awards

  • David Usher, associate professor of biological sciences, Mentor of the Year
  • Jade Logan, McNair graduate assistant, Commitment to the McNair Scholars Program

2003-04 Ronald E. McNair Postbaccalaureate Achievement Program Awards

  • Craig de Mariana Aleman, AS ’05, Spirit of McNair Award
  • Jared Ali, AS ’06, Spirit of McNair Award
  • Kaneisha Trott, AS ’05, Collegiality Award
  • Nicole Hitchen, AS ’05, Collegiality Award
  • Robert Brandon Smith, AS ’05, Leadership Award
  • Melody Casagrande, US ’06, McNair Scholar of Promise Award
  • Vivek Patel, AS ’06, McNair Scholar of Promise Award

Article by Becca Hutchinson
Photos by Duane Perry

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