Over the next few weeks, colleges and universities across Arkansas will host Commencement ceremonies to celebrate the academic achievements of graduates. This Saturday, one private two-year college in North Little Rock will have its first official graduate in nearly 15 years.
Wilhelm Cedric Hawkins has a long history with Shorter College.
“My grandmother went to school here, my mother went to school here, and also my father so I figure that I could follow the family tradition,” said Hawkins, as he walks through halls of the main building on campus.
Hawkins says Shorter College is his heart. In the past, he worked at the college, but the long road to graduation was not easy. A major accident in 2007 made him reassess his goals.
“I got hit by a car and it broke both my legs. I was sitting at home thinking ‘Lord, I’m getting ready to get on disability and you know I like to work… so what other challenge do you have for me.’ And [God] told me school,” Hawkins said.
But thoughts of returning to school proved to be a battle at first, for Hawkins. He had to find balance in his life; because being married, having to take care of his father, and completing school work takes a lot of effort.
“I had the thought that these young people [on a college campus] are a lot smarter than I am,” said Hawkins. “But as the time grew on, I went on and registered and I have had a great time here at Shorter.”
Shorter College is an historically black liberal arts college in North Little Rock that was founded in 1886 by the African Methodist Episcopal Church and the sons and daughters of slaves. The college fell on hard times near the end of the 1990s, due to leadership challenges, financial struggles, and a loss of accreditation. Dr. O. Jerome Green is the current president of Shorter College. He’s held that post since July 2012.
“When I arrived at Shorter, it was virtually a ghost town. There was a skeleton crew here for a staff. There were no permanent teachers,” said Green, as he sits down in the administrative conference room. “I asked the board how many students were enrolled in the college and they said between two, or maybe four.”
Green said he had a lot of work to do and assembled a team to rebuild the college’s academic rigor and administrative capabilities. After launching a comprehensive advertising campaign, Shorter College now has 236 registered students in less than one year. President Green says the college strives to uplift people and help them fulfill their purpose and achieve academic goals regardless of socioeconomic status.
“I think I’m safe to say that by the time a student graduates we have gotten into their heads that you got to be competent, you got to have character, you got to have culture and not be culture-bound, and you got to understand and embrace citizenship so that you can participate in this community,” Green said.
Though Shorter College had some Commencement activities in the recent past, which mostly bestowed honorary degrees, the institution’s last official graduation was in 1998. That will all change Saturday, when Cedric Hawkins crosses the stage and receives an associate degree.
“Shorter and myself are just like the phoenix. You know, [a phoenix] flies gracefully through the course of 100 years. Then one day, the phoenix stands up in its nest and it burns… later the ashes regenerate,” said Hawkins. “That’s what Shorter have done, been reborn again just like I have. I fee like I’ve been better now than I was in the past.”
55-year old Cedric Hawkins says he overcame his fears, continued his education, and is now expected to graduate with a 3.7 grade point average.
Hawkins promises to help his alma mater grow by giving back to the college, faculty, and staff who have helped him accomplish his goals.
The work continues for Cedric Hawkins, he hopes to attend Little Rock’s Philander Smith College in the fall to study Business Administration. After that, he wants to get his master’s degree.