EAST GREENSBORO, NC (April 22, 2022) – About 300 people gathered Thursday, April 21, to celebrate the naming of Speight Hall in honor of Velma R. Speight ’53, Ph.D., representing only a fraction of those “Miss Aggie Pride” has inspired during her lifetime of service.
Having grown up on a farm in Greene County, North Carolina, Speight began attending school at 3, walking three miles to class every day with her siblings. She graduated high school as valedictorian at 15, then earned both a BS in mathematics and a BS in from NC A&T at 19. Speight said she wanted to major in agriculture at A&T, but women were not permitted to do so at the time.
Lewis Dowdy, the university’s sixth president and first chancellor who was one of her mentors, told her he had no doubt she would be an excellent teacher, but cautioned that she would face many obstacles because she was “a Negro, a woman, and smart .”
“If you know Aggies, you know Aggies are always challenging,” she said.
Speight started her high school teaching career in Maryland, where she received promotions and appointments to high-level positions with the Maryland State Department of Education before Maryland’s governor selected her to serve in state leadership. She then served at the University of Maryland Eastern Shore, taught at Johns Hopkins University, Loyola College and the University of Maryland at College Park, where she earned her master’s degree and Ph.D., and chaired the Department of Counseling and Adult Education during her two years as a faculty member at East Carolina University.
Having earned a Fulbright Scholarship in 1991 to study in Ghana and Senegal, West Africa, Speight returned to her alma mater as director of Alumni Affairs and was named A&T Administrator of the Year before her retirement. She became the first alumna elected to the A&T Board of Trustees in 1998, serving as its chair in 2005. The North Carolina A&T Real Estate Foundation named the lobby of its Alumni-Foundation Events Center in her honor, while North Carolina A&T State University Alumni Association Inc. also renamed its Young Alumni Award for her.
Patrice Withers-Stephens ’05, a Speight Young Alumni Award recipient, spoke during Thursday’s program at Speight’s personal invitation.
“Who can turn down Miss Aggie Pride herself?” she asked, noting that Morrison Hall, which was renamed for Speight, which was “the first place I called home in Aggieland.”
In September 2020, the A&T Board of Trustees stripped the names of both Morrison and Cherry from campus buildings after it was discovered that the namesakes, Cameron Morrison and R. Gregg Cherry, were aligned with white supremacy before and during their governorship of North Carolina. A&T leaders determined the Morrison and Cherry names did not reflect the university’s values, standards and principles. Cherry Hall was officially renamed for Joseph Monroe ’62, Ph.D., past College of Engineering dean, with an April 15 ceremony.
As a student, Withers-Stephens chose to cover the Board of Trustees when she was a staff writer, then managing editor of The A&T Register, and came to know Speight during her board service.
“I thought she was some kind of amazing,” Withers-Stephens said. “If you know her, you know students are always at the forefront of her decision-making.”
Chancellor Harold L. Martin Sr. echoed those sentiments, saying Speight’s leadership shaped engagement of A&T. Among her many accolades, Speight received an honorary Doctor of Humanities in 2006 upon delivering the fall commencement address and two years later was named an honorary member of the A&T Sports Hall of Fame.
“Areas of this campus are not untouched by Dr. Speight,” he said. “There is no question that she is worthy of the latest recognition we are bestowing upon her today in tribute to her unwavering embodiment of Aggie Pride.”
“This is the best of the best,” Speight said of the naming. “I just want to be remembered for never losing sight of the lessons history has taught us … I never backed away from a challenge and never stopped challenging others.
“I’m still climbing. It’s been a wonderful trip,” she said. “I am truly an Aggie woman.”