UF black alumni honor history-making grads
Published: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, October 16, 2013 at 4:15 p.m.
The opening ceremony of the 2013 University of Florida Black Alumni Weekend featured tributes to black UF students who were the first to graduate from their degree programs after the historic 1963 March on Washington for Freedom and Jobs and also to black students who came later to take advantage of the opportunities those before them guaranteed would be available for future generations through their courage and perseverance.
Held Friday at UF's Emerson Alumni Hall, those recognized at the ceremony included U.S. District Judge Stephan Mickle, who, in 1965, became the first black to graduate with an undergraduate degree from UF, and his wife, Evelyn Mickle, who, in 1967, was the first black to graduate from the UF College of Nursing.
The Mickles are longtime Gainesville residents, and several people spoke on their behalf, including Attorney Jeraldine Williams of Tampa, who spoke for Stephan Mickle, and Dr. Reuben Brigety of Washington, D.C., who spoke for Evelyn Mickle.
During her remarks, Williams said Stephan Mickle is a "builder of bridges of empowerment." Williams, who, in 1963, was one of seven blacks to enroll in UF after Mickle and six others in 1962 were the first black students to be allowed to enroll in UF, said Mickle "navigated the slush and slime of the swamp here at the University of Florida for his posterity, for my posterity, and then he turned around and he built a bridge to span the muck in the swamp for us here today."
Brigety said he met Evelyn Mickle in 1965, when he enrolled in medical school and she enrolled in nursing school at UF. He said 1965 was a difficult year for both of them, even though he has a strong suspicion that her experience in nursing school was worse than his in medical school.
"For many years, she would not tell anyone she was a graduate of the nursing school at the University of Florida," said Brigety, who, in 1970, along with Dr. H. Earl Cotman, were the first blacks to graduate from the UF College of Medicine.
The others who received recognition at the ceremony were: Dr. Marvin Wells, who, in 1977, became the first black to graduate from the UF College of Dentistry; former football players defensive back Alvin "A.C." Cowins, a 1977 graduate, and fullback Darryl Perry, a 1990 graduate; former head football coach Doug Dickey, a 1954 graduate; former track athletes Will Claye, winner of the silver medal in the triple jump and the bronze medal in the long jump at the 2012 London Olympics; Christian Taylor, the gold medal winner in the long jump at the 2012 London Olympics; Stephen "Grump" Williams, a 1974 graduate who was the first black scholarship basketball player at UF, and Muriel Page, a 1998 UF graduate who was the first player ever drafted by the Washington Mystics of the WNBA.
Close to 100 hundred black and white UF alumni, family members and friends attended the ceremony, which also featured a brief speech by UF president Dr. Bernie Machen. Among his remarks, Machen talked about his commitment to make sure black students and underrepresented students are able to succeed at UF. Machen said his most meaningful moments in his tenure as UF president has been his personal interactions with the Machen Florida Opportunity Scholars.
"As you may know, this program was started to give first-generation students a realistic chance to come and be successful at UF," said Machen, adding that the students he met in the program have a passion for learning that he don't always see in students who come from more comfortable backgrounds.
"To date, we have brought more than 2,900 Florida Opportunity Scholars to the University of Florida," he said.