How I Became One of the First of Five Black Americans to Graduate from Wesleyan College in Macon, GA

“The Christine Everett Story”

By: Christine Everett ’72

At the age of five, I would come home from Sunday school, line my dolls up on the front porch, and teach them the Sunday school lesson. My knowledge of Jesus was put on hold for a while, but my desire to become a teacher continued to grow. I was promoted to second grade from kindergarten, and although I was in second grade, I began to gather the students around me in back of the classroom and teach them as if I were the teacher. I remember my father was so concerned, he asked my mother, “Why won’t she go outside and play like the other children?” My mother replied, “Leave her alone, can’t you see she wants to be a teacher?” I was the middle child of six children: two boys and four girls. My mother and father prayed. My mother taught me how to pray. My family was very close-knit. We loved and supported each other.

I continued my journey through elementary, middle and high school making good grades, usually A-B honor roll. I was following a program called college preparatory. So I had a rigorous academic schedule designed specifically to challenge students who were “gifted” and wanted to pursue a college degree beyond high school graduation.

I was fifteen years old when I got a letter inviting me to come to Wesleyan College. The offer included a full-paid tuition scholarship grant for four years and all we had to do was pay for the books needed for each semester. I remember being so excited to have this opportunity, but I didn’t know anything about Wesleyan College. I had never heard of it and neither had my high school counselor. We were both baffled as to how this invitation came to be. My counselor and I had sent my application to Mercer University in Macon, Georgia, but neither of us could figure out how Wesleyan College had received my application materials. As time passed, we began to ask questions and discovered that after reviewing my application packet, the dean of admissions at Mercer University forwarded my application request to the dean at Wesleyan College with a recommendation stating that, “this applicant would be an excellent candidate for a Wesleyan College scholarship.”

My mother said, “See I told you God would make a way.” Our prayers had been answered and we were convinced that the hand of God had moved in my favor and it was a divine intervention that caused my invitation to Wesleyan College. Of course I accepted the offer and entered the College by the fall of 1968. I found myself a fifteen year old freshman at one of the oldest, most prestigious colleges in America. Whenever I’m asked about it I often say, “I didn’t choose Wesleyan, Wesleyan chose me.” I had no idea of what I was getting into. I was entering a place, an established institution of higher learning that would impact my life forever in more ways than I could ever dream or imagine. I had no idea that I would later become known as one of “The First Five.”

I have limited space here, so I can only highlight a few of the most memorable events and experiences in my recollection of my Wesleyan story:

I remember being the odd numbered student who did not have a roommate. I was told that the student who was assigned to be my roommate changed her mind at the last minute and decided not to come. I cried myself to sleep many nights from just being alone, homesick, and away from my family and friends.

I grew up at Wesleyan. I remember being called to the dean’s office one evening thinking there was a problem, but it was a surprise to celebrate my 16th birthday. It was a wonderful surprise! I will never forget the love, the gifts, and the happiness I felt when Dean Dix, a most stern woman, decided to allow such a celebration in the dorm with her supervision. And yet, there I was, celebrated by strangers I hardly knew and some new friends I had recently met. It is a memory that I will cherish forever.

My assigned “big sister” at Wesleyan was Charlene Payne (Bishop Charlene Payne Kammerer ’70). She was a Purple Knight. Charlene was more than a big sister. She was patient, kind, and supportive. She reminded me of my own sisters in my family. She was the “perfect person” to go to for help when I needed guidance or just needed someone to talk to when I was feeling overwhelmed by college life. She later became a Methodist minister and married her sweetheart, Lee. He was the love of her life.

I remember facing all kinds of challenges. Once we took a bus to one of the local churches near the College. We were quickly turned away by one of the ushers at the front door. He said, “This is a closed service.” I remember being devastated by the incident. First, I cried a lot and then we decided to tell Dr. Strickland, then president of Wesleyan College, about it. He contacted a Methodist minister, Rev. Stewart, who ended up driving us to a wonderful local church in a lavish limousine that he chauffeured.

Dr. W. Earl Strickland was like a grandfather to me. He was very kind, loving, patient, and easy-going. He was extremely cool-headed. When I looked in his warm blue eyes, it was like looking at love staring you in the face, unconditional, compassionate love. It’s the only way I can describe it. It was like standing face-to-face with Jesus. His voice was always calm and filled with understanding. He never raised his voice or showed any signs of ill temperament. He simply would not tolerate anything or anybody who hurt our feelings on or off campus. He always stood for love, and kindness. He was quick to apologize to us for anything that someone said or did that offended any of us. Whenever problems came up, he handled it with grace and dignity. I will never forget a trip we took to Georgia Tech as a freshman mixer to socialize and I was hoping to meet some of the football players since we were avid football fans in my family. When we got off the bus, someone yelled out a racial slur that sounded like the N–word. I heard it and Dr. Strickland put his arm around my shoulder showing visible support. I managed to stay calm and he reassured me in his calm voice saying, “I’m right here and everything is all right.” I always felt safe around Dr. Strickland. He was short in height and stature, but he stood 10 feet tall when it came to courage and kindness. One Sunday afternoon, I had the pleasure of eating dinner with him and his wife. I found her to be as kind and gracious as he was known to be.

I remember Dr. Walter Brown, then chaplain at Wesleyan, Dr. Everett, Dr. Harry Gilmer, Dr. Hicks, Miss Ann Munck, Mr. Scarborough, and Dr. Taylor as some of my favorite professors. All of them were strict and no-nonsense when it came to their expectations and coursework, but at the same time they had hearts of gold. They treated me with respect. And I showed them the same respect. They were always available to help me with any concerns and were willing to answer any questions that I had about their assignments or expectations. I remember them taking the time to listen, guide, and advise me whenever help was needed. Later I used it in my own career: it’s called professionalism.

I believe that these staff members were ordained by God to teach and mentor me. They were excellent role models for this important time in my life when values were being developed and one’s character is being molded, shaped, and tested. They inspired me and gave me the courage and the desire to find my place in this world and pay it forward. So, when I graduated, I left Wesleyan with a determination to let my light shine brightly and help my students by encouraging them and inspiring them to overcome weaknesses, face fears, discover their dreams and talents, and use their gifts to make the world an even better place wherever they choose to live. I left here with a desire to be the person that God created me to be: a virtuous woman empowered to change the world one person at a time and with a passion to make a difference in the lives of my students.

Hail Wesleyan: Thank you for the opportunity to grow up here and to learn here. Thank you for loving me, nurturing me, and giving me the foundation, knowledge, and skills that I would need to fulfill my dream of life, liberty, and happiness. Thank you for showing me the power of love and the strength it gives each one of us to pass it on to those who follow in our footsteps. May you continue to be a beacon of light, a place of hope, and a place where the love of almighty God can be felt and experienced by the young students who come here looking to find their places in life. My passion to learn about Jesus Christ grew over the years as I studied the Bible and dedicated my life to following His teachings. My teaching career was extremely rewarding and fulfilling. It exceeded my highest expectations. I was blessed to serve many students and parents in Georgia for a span of over 41 years, traveling north, south, east, and west, wherever the door opened. It was a passionate labor of love because all of God’s children are precious in His sight.

My heart is filled with gratitude that God’s grace opened this door to me. Thank God for all of the people who allowed me to experience His love, His kindness and His grace. They will always have a special place in my heart. May those of us who came to Wesleyan with the help of a scholarship always remember how we came here and be willing to serve our fellow men, women, or children wherever the call to serve leads us: as doctors, nurses, lawyers, writers, teachers, social workers, musicians, or ministers. May we serve others whenever and wherever we’re needed the most for as long as we are needed and able to serve. May God help us to find feasible ways to support the Wesleyan College scholarship programs whenever we can, so that others may come to Wesleyan and receive a quality education for generations to come.

This is my story of how I came to Wesleyan College. It is a story of faith and courage. The four years I spent there taught me a lot about faith, hope, and charity. The greatest of these is charity.

Hail Wesleyan!

Christine Everett '72