BYFIELD — A gauntlet of sorts was thrown in front of the 103 students making up The Governor’s Academy graduating class of 2013 by Congressional Gold Medal winner and civil rights activist Dr. Melba Beals, guest speaker, during yesterday’s commencement inside the Pescosolido Field House.
Beals was one of nine black students escorted into formerly segregated Little Rock Central High School by Army troops in 1957, defying the wishes of then-Ark. Gov. Orval Faubus and a mob of protesters blocking the school, one of the defining moments of the civil rights movement. Yesterday, she challenged graduating seniors to break through barriers and jump through any and all hoops that might stop them from carrying out their dreams, much like she did back in 1957.
“Today is the first day of the rest of your life. You’re in charge now,” Beals said. “The next question is: What are you going to do about it?”
Beals went on to reenforce the notion that society will tell graduating seniors they aren’t bright enough or connected enough to follow their hearts. She also told them that the days of their parents watching over them — and in some cases handing them credit cards — were essentially over. The key, she said, was to let nothing deter them from fulfilling their dreams.
“Do you want it bad enough or are you bragging?” she asked.
Wet weather for much of the weekend prompted school officials to hold the school’s 250th commencement exercises indoors for the first time in years. Typically, the ceremony is held on a expansive grassy area next to the Mansion House, home to the school’s headmaster. But the foul weather didn’t detract from the festivities and excitement as proud parents, grandparents, great-grandparents, siblings and friends filled every available seat inside the fieldhouse and then some.