Opening Assembly at Abilene Christian University may take place on the first day of school each fall at Abilene Christian University, but for two alumni yesterday, it felt more like Commencement.
Dr. Billy Curl (’64) and Larry Bonner (’64), ACU’s first two African-American undergraduate students in Fall 1962, marched into Moody Coliseum on Monday morning alongside the university’s president and provost, wearing academic regalia and leading the processional before a nearly full house of students, faculty, staff, alumni and other friends.
Neither of them was available to walk with their graduating class in 1964, so the day was a special treat. It also was the first time the two longtime friends had been back on campus together since they were classmates.
The distinctive honor was noted during the ceremony during special introductions made by Dr. Gary McCaleb (’64), vice president of the university:
“Fifty years ago, Abilene Christian University opened its doors to students of all races for the first time. In August 1962, Dr. Billy Curl and Larry Bonner became the first full-time African-American students to enroll at Abilene Christian. Last semester, ACU began to commemorate this milestone with a series of events, including a Chapel Forum in February attended by more than 1,000 students, faculty, staff, alumni and members of the Abilene community. Other opportunities for reflection and celebration of the university’s integration anniversary are planned for this fall semester.
“A few minutes ago, you saw Dr. Curl – a preacher and ACU trustee from Inglewood, California – and Mr. Bonner – a church elder and successful businessman from Silver Spring, Maryland – accompany president Schubert and chancellor Money in the Processional before taking their seats on the front row. Today, we celebrate the 50th anniversary and we celebrate all the students who have followed Dr. Curl and Mr. Bonner over the last half-century. … Billy and Larry, your courage, humility, grace and pioneer spirit will forever be known among us.”
Schubert (’91) also thanked the two former transfer students from Southwestern Christian College while noting the record 30 percent diversity rate of ACU’s freshman class this fall. “That accomplishment can be attributed in many ways to the two of you, and the trail you blazed for students of all colors on our campus,” Schubert said. “We are a better university because of your influence and courage in leadership.”
Sunday night, Curl and Bonner met with members of ACU’s Black Students Association, and were surprised with a gift from Craig Fisher (’92), director of alumni relations and annual projects – their own ACU class ring, which each wore proudly the next morning in Moody.
“I’m appreciative just to witness it. Giving them the rings just puts the icing on the cake,” said Jeanetta Norris, senior music education major from Fort Worth and president of the Black Students Association. Curl’s wife, Mary, and Bonner’s wife, Donna, also were present.
“This is my graduation year,” said a smiling Curl as he put on his cap and gown before the ceremony.
“This has been wonderful,” said Bonner of the experience. “It’s changed my whole life.”