Thursday, May 30, 2013

HU Alumnus & Civil Rights Pioneer Receives High School Diploma

HU Alumnus & Civil Rights Pioneer Receives High School Diploma


President Jerome H. Holland Admits Student No Diploma Needed 

Olivia Ferguson, Hamptonian Yearbook 1963, Charlottesville, VA
Early Childhood Education Major
S.N.E.A., Woman's Senate, S.C.A

Fifty years and two college degrees later Hampton University (HU) alumnus, Olivia Ferguson McQueen finally received her high school diploma on May 25, she was denied in 1959.

“It was a very emotional day,” said McQueen. “Although the city council awarded me with my diploma and key to the city of Charlottesville for the 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education, this ceremony was more meaningful because it was prepared by my peers.”  

In a ceremony held Saturday, May 25 at what is now Burley Middle School; McQueen donned her full green and gold cap and gown, and was awarded her diploma by Charlottesville City Schools Superintendent Rosa Atkins and Albemarle County Public Schools Superintendent Pamela Moran.

"What a day this is ... It really was a surprise when I received a call saying that something was being planned, but I didn't know to what extent something was being planned," McQueen told the Huffington Post.
In 1958, at age 16, McQueen successfully sued to integrate the Charlottesville City School; however regardless of her victory she was not allowed in the classroom. McQueen spent her senior year being tutored in the School Board Office with a cluster of 12 students, one freshman and the rest elementary students.
The last time McQueen walked across the stage at her old high school was June 3, 1959. She finally returned to receive the diploma she worked hard for decades ago instead of the certificate she acquired on graduation day, which made it nearly impossible to get into college.
Although McQueen knew applying to college may have been one of her most daunting tasks; she was up for the challenge. With help from the community whom wrote letters to the several colleges she applied, it was McQueen’s cousin, Judge Jean Murrell Capers, who wrote directly to president Jerome H. Holland of HU informing him about her compelling story, which aided in the university’s decision.

Despite not obtaining a high school diploma, McQueen attended HU, where she received her bachelor of science degree in early childhood education in 1963.

McQueen’s Hampton experience was a refreshing and pleasant one. She was able to forget about the past as she embarked on a new journey in her life and was happy to be around people again. She like every incoming freshman knew she would have to adjust to making new friends and study habits. McQueen knew that balancing her social interactions and academics were most important, but she managed to make lifelong friendships that have lasted to this day, too.
She then continued her education at Trinity College in Washington, D.C. where she earned her master's of education.
After her rough secondary education venture and her post –secondary education McQueen spent her career as an educator outside of Virginia, county school officials said. She now resides in Washington, D.C.  with her loving husband James McQueen.  

- Chad Harris '14

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