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Contact: Ann Hatch214-378-1819; email@example.com
For immediate release — Feb. 18, 2014
(DALLAS) — Dr. Wright Lassiter Jr., chancellor of the Dallas County Community College District, has built a professional career of many “firsts”: first black college president in the State University of New York (SUNY) system; one of the first African-Americans appointed to a bank’s board of directors in Dallas; a member of the White House Commission on Minority Business Development, the first group to create the term “Historically Under-utilized Businesses” (now called HUBs); the only African-American who has received the Russell Perry Award for Servant Leadership from Dallas Baptist University (where he is a graduate school faculty member and former chair of the DBU board of regents); and the first African-American to serve as chancellor of DCCCD, to name only a few.
Lassiter, who announced his retirement last year, leaves the district on Tuesday, Feb. 25, after four decades of service to higher education.
Beginning with the fall 2013 semester, the district’s retiring chancellor began to count down a list of “lasts”: final fall and spring semesters as chancellor; final lunch and interview with student newspaper editors; final visits with elected officials and state legislators; final trustees meetings; final cabinet meetings; and his final, formal farewell to the higher education community, family members, friends and the Dallas County Community College District during a special evening at the Hall of State at Fair Park, near downtown Dallas.
Filled with toe-tapping notes played by members of the Eastfield College Jazz Ensemble (directed by Dr. Oscar Passley) and graced with tributes from several governmental offices, Lassiter’s retirement program evoked memories of his 20 years of service as president of El Centro College and almost eight years as DCCCD’s sixth chancellor.
Guests from businesses, the community and all colleges and locations of DCCCD — plus family members and friends — filled the majestic hall, which was backlit in ways that enhanced the occasion. Hellos, goodbyes and handshakes were the order of the evening, and guests vied for time to have their picture taken with the chancellor (and to share their best wishes with him, too).
Attendees — and the chancellor — enjoyed a short video featuring employees who were asked to describe Lassiter in three words. Those words ranged from mentor, servant leader, statesman and teacher to descriptors such as wise, kind, inspirational, caring — and tall!
Lassiter, who sat center stage most of the evening and smiled as others shared their memories about working with him, experienced another “first”: He was the recipient of the district’s first honorary associate degree, bestowed on him by the presidents of all seven individually accredited colleges in the system and by the entire DCCCD board of trustees.
Resolutions honoring the chancellor’s achievements, leadership and legacy were presented on behalf of the city of Dallas by Adam McGough, chief of staff, Office of the Mayor; on behalf of the Texas House of Representatives by State Rep. Roberto Alonzo; and on behalf of the Texas Senate by State Sen. Royce West, who summed up the evening’s accolades for the chancellor in several succinct words: “He is a good man.”
Jerry Prater, chair of the DCCCD board of trustees, spoke on the group’s behalf, thanking Dr. Lassiter for his leadership and his service. “It’s been a pleasure and an honor to work with you,” said Prater. “We thank you for your service, for your leadership and for your dedication to this district and our students.”
When Lassiter promised a short speech, laughter rippled through the room. He said, “I’ll make this short — because you know I could go on for several hours!” While the chancellor thanked everyone for their support, hard work, friendship and efforts on behalf of all students, he reminded the audience about one of his favorite quotes: that “the largest room in any house is the room for improvement.” His words echoed across the room as members of the audience recited the often-heard comment.
In addition to accepting his honorary associate degree — which rounded out the chancellor’s list of academic credentials (from a bachelor’s degree to his doctorate), Lassiter also received an original piece of art by student Ted Houston titled “Sun Series 2013.”
Lassiter, who becomes chancellor emeritus on Feb. 26, will assist as an advisor to DCCCD’s new CEO, Dr. Joe May, and already has moved to an off-site office in Dallas. He plans to continue to write — adding to the 11 books he already has published — and also to serve on boards of directors in the Dallas area, lecture and continue his work as executive pastor at Concord Church.
The gala event was a fitting farewell for a man of many “firsts” who always has made students and their success his top priority.