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Contact: Ann Hatch
For immediate release — Dec. 16, 2013
(DALLAS) — More than two decades ago, Dr. Wright Lassiter Jr. led the way in higher education by agreeing to establish a middle college at the downtown campus of El Centro College, in cooperation with the Dallas Independent School District. The goal of the middle college was to provide opportunities for at-risk high school students to earn their diplomas as well as college credit that would transfer to one of DCCCD’s institutions.
That vision grew — in spite of initial objections from some faculty members who were wary of teaching high school students in their college credit courses — and, 25 years later, has become the Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School at El Centro College. A special naming ceremony — planned and presented by students who attend the school — was held late this fall during Homecoming week to honor Lassiter, who served as the president of El Centro when the middle college was created and who will retire in February 2014 as the sixth chancellor of DCCCD.
Lassiter recalled, “During those first days on campus, our middle college students were on television, saying ‘We are now college students.’ We all took a risk. We told the students that they had to be willing to work to find the prize — education.”
The theater auditorium at El Centro was filled with faculty and staff members, dignitaries and — most importantly — students who currently attend the early college high school and who paid tribute to the person whose efforts to champion education have provided them with opportunities for growth and success.
The school’s principal, Eric Markinson, said, “The faculty and students respect him. Dr. Lassiter’s authority comes from humanity, humility and groundedness.”
As a number of students read quotes from many of Lassiter’s published works, they spoke about the gifts of education, labor, family and faith; the honoree discussed the gift of wisdom.
Dr. Lew Blackburn, first vice president of the Dallas ISD board of trustees, paid tribute to Lassiter and said, ”Dallas ISD’s partnerships with higher education — including El Centro, the University of North Texas at Dallas and ‘Lassiter College’ — are good for students. Dr. Lassiter has made it possible for students to come here to do both high school and college work and to earn a high school diploma and an associate degree. He is a gentle giant who has paved the way for so many of us to go to college.” He advised students “to stand on his (Lassiter’s) shoulders and help others, too.”
Dr. Mike Miles, Dallas ISD’s superintendent, stressed the importance of college and career readiness. He said, “Dr. Lassiter represents everything that the early college high school has been noted for. He had the vision and courage to say that high school students could be on his college campus, surrounded by college students, and that they could attend college. Thank you, Dr. Lassiter, for setting a path for others.”
Miles also addressed the students in the audience and told them, “Find the intelligence that’s already within you, continue to have a heart and have the courage to follow your vision, like Dr. Lassiter followed his.”
Jerry Prater, chair of the DCCCD board of trustees, also congratulated Dr. Lassiter on his success. “I am here to honor Dr. Lassiter on behalf of the Dallas County Community College District’s board of trustees and the past and present students at the Wright Lassiter Early College High School,” he said. He added (to students), “You will succeed if you have persistence.”
During the naming celebration, Dr. Paul McCarthy, president of El Centro College, also thanked Dr. Lassiter for his vision and encouraged students at the early college high school to do well in school.
Students who spoke throughout the event presented Lassiter with a Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School T-shirt, a lanyard and his own ID. The DCCCD Foundation will administer the new Wright L. Lassiter Jr. Early College High School Scholarship, which was announced at the conclusion of the event; guests and students then attended a reception in El Centro’s Student Center.
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