Virtual Founders’ Day Enables Continuation of Annual Averett Tradition

Posted on March 12th, 2021 by Matt Bell

Averett University’s annual Founders’ Day event was held before an empty Pritchett Auditorium Thursday, March 11. The event was broadcast online, which opened the virtual doors for hundreds of viewers to hear alumni memories of Averett and words of encouragement for the future after a historic year.

Averett alumni Dr. James Allred ’97, Dr. Angela Hairston ’85 and Ms. Adrian Nester ’01, ’03 were the featured speakers, discussing Averett’s influence on them over the years.

Allred is a cardiac electrophysiologist specializing in implantation of cardiac devices and catheter ablation. He is actively involved in clinical research and works to bring the newest cardiac technologies to the N.C.-Triad.

During his speech, Allred said his time at Averett prepared him for medical school, and provided the foundation for a successful future.

“[The professors at Averett] were personally invested in my future,” he said. “Strong academia, leadership opportunities, religious life and lifelong friendships are formed here.”

Hairston, superintendent of Danville Public Schools, followed.

“Averett is certainly a jewel to our community and something we should be proud of,” she said.

Hairston began her career as a teacher in Halifax County and in Virginia Beach. She returned to Danville to teach math at George Washington High School, later serving as the first principal of Westwood Middle School. She served at two of the largest school districts in Georgia as director of human resources, principal and superintendent before returning to work in Danville.

As a first-generation college student and the eldest of almost two dozen cousins from both sides of her family, Hairston said she didn’t know how difficult college could be with the ambitious schedule she had selected for herself. What she did know is that she had to set an example.

“I’m forever indebted to the professors and support staff here at Averett College, now Averett University, because you changed the lives of so many of my cousins and siblings because they knew if I could finish, they could finish.

“The only reason I was able to finish is because someone cared,” she continued. “I will never forget that…because you changed the lives of so many in my family.”

Nester, a two-time Averett graduate and the final alumni speaker, shared a similar sentiment of gratitude.

“Averett made an impact on my life beyond anything tangible through the things I learned and the friends I made, and the fun I had,” she said.

Nester is a 20-year educator with Pittsylvania County Schools. She currently serves as the English department chair, Interact sponsor and newspaper advisor at Tunstall High School.

Though she thought she was prepared for her first year of teaching two decades ago, Nester said she soon found herself facing challenges and overcoming obstacles, which prepared her for facing uncertainties due to COVID-19.

“In those early days and years, I was establishing a classroom culture without really knowing what to call it. A culture that said ‘this is a safe space to be in.’…And while I was also in no way fully ready to respond to COVID and how that would impact my classroom, I used the lessons that I have learned along the way,” Nester said.

“First, I showed up. Secondly, I improvised and finally, I would create, maintain and sustain a culture that I wanted to be a part of. Averett laid this foundation.”

Delivering a charge to students was Junior Zamyiah Mangum ’22, a chemistry major at Averett serving as the junior class president, the president of Student Athlete Advisory Committee, a student ambassador and a student-athlete in softball and volleyball.

“Attending Averett was the absolute best decision of my life,” she said. “There have been significant challenges and adversity through my time at Averett, but during trying times, I have been shown endless support, encouragement and advocacy from countless individuals.”

Mangum reminded the student body that while everyone continues to feel the effects of the pandemic, there are better days ahead. She reflected on the past year and the many changes campus was about to endure just one year ago, including classes moving online and the cancelation of spring sports.

“But look at you, a year later, back to in-person classes, having the opportunity to play sports and realizing there is light at the end of this tunnel,” Mangum said.

Averett University President Dr. Tiffany M. Franks said that while Thursday marked the first time Founders’ Day was held virtually, it is not the first pandemic the school has dealt with.

“We know that more than 100 years ago, in March of 1918, Averett was also facing a pandemic… the Averett president then, Mr. Clayton Crosland, promised parents of potential students that Averett College suffered only one case of the Spanish flu, and ‘not a class hour was missed!’”

Franks compared notes from the pandemics of 1918 and 2020, and contributed the University’s success in both occasions to the caring spirit of students, faculty and staff as well as the surrounding community; and for the resolute determination to support one another.

Other participants during convocation included Vice President of Academic Affairs and Student Success Rev. Dr. Timothy Fulop, who gave the welcome and invocation; Vice President of Philanthropy Melissa Wohlstein, who introduced the speakers; Dr. Gary Tucker singing the Alma Mater; and Rev. Skyler Daniel delivering the benediction. A prerecorded video of the Averett Singers was also shown. Department chair and professor of music Dr. Anne Lewis played the piano to open and close the ceremony. This year’s Faculty Member of the Year, Dr. Jennifer Hughes, associate professor of English and chair of the Department of Language, Literature and Culture, carried the University mace.

Watch the full recorded ceremony here, and view the detailed program here.