Southwestern University President Edward Burger announced this week that Dr. Sybil Jordan Hampton will speak at the 2018 Commencement Ceremony on May 12.

Sybil Jordan Hampton’s life has been filled with challenges, determination and inspiration. In 1962, she became the first African American student to complete her entire education at Little Rock Central High School. She has served as a higher education administrator, philanthropist and political advisor throughout her career, including three years at Southwestern University where she served as Special Assistant to the President. She was a well-respected and valuable member of the Southwestern community.

In 1996, Sybil left Southwestern and returned to Little Rock to serve as President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation (WRF) that focuses on racial and social justice. She retired in 2006, but continues her efforts to support community services and education.

“We are thrilled and honored to welcome Sybil Jordan Hampton back home to Southwestern this spring,” says Southwestern University President Edward Burger. “Her determination, dedication and leadership provide an inspiring example to our graduating seniors as they prepare to embark on the next chapter of their own journeys.”

Little Girl from Little Rock

Growing up in Little Rock, Arkansas, in the 1950s, Sybil was active in her church and participated in extracurricular activities, including piano lessons and Girl Scouts. Her parents were civil rights activists and members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). This upbringing and the support of her family gave her the foundation to face the challenges ahead and dedicate her life to making it better for people of color.

Sybil Jordan was 13 years old when nine black students—now known as the Little Rock Nine—integrated Little Rock Central High School.

Tensions were high and it created a media frenzy.  The integration outraged those who believed that blacks and whites should not study together, including the Arkansas governor who closed all the high schools in Little Rock for an entire year. The federal government forced them to reopen in 1959, when Sybil and four other black students enrolled.

She was ignored by classmates, and except for the occasional taunting or name-calling, she felt invisible and isolated. It was through Sybil’s strong faith and determination that she graduated with honors in 1962.

Distinguished Career

Sybil went on to earn her a bachelor’s degree from Earlham College in Indiana, a master’s degree in elementary education from the University of Chicago, and a second master’s and doctorate from Columbia University. She worked in academic administration at Iona College, University of Wisconsin-Madison, and then at Southwestern before returning to Little Rock to become President of the Winthrop Rockefeller Foundation.    Sybil has been awarded numerous honors and today serves on the boards of several nonprofit organizations.

For more insight into Sybil’s life and experiences at Little Rock Central High, check out “Homecoming,” a wonderful article by Tommy Tomlinson in Southwest Airlines Magazine.

Southwestern University’s 2018 Commencement ceremony will be held on Saturday, May 12 at 10:00.

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