More than six hundred degrees and certificates will be awarded to graduates of Arkansas State University Mid-South during commencement exercises set for Thursday, May 11 at 7:00 p.m. in Lehr Arena.
The graduates and their guests will hear a special commencement keynote by Dr. Wilbert Gaines an Instructor and Professor at Arkansas State University in Jonesboro for thirty-three years.
The first four African American faculty members at Arkansas State University formed a mutual support group they called “The Circle.” They made Jonesboro their home in the early 1970s when integration was the law of the land but, unfortunately, years away from general acceptance.
One of the new student housing developments on the A-State campus will bear the names of the four in permanent recognition of their historic roles in desegregation.
The complex will be known as The Circle. The buildings will be called Gaines Hall, Richmond Hall, Smith Hall and Strickland Hall.
The location of The Circle, just west of the Military Science Building, is where the four families lived in faculty houses. Because the proximity of their residences helped the families provide mutual support, the site is considered significant in A-State’s history.
The ASU Board of Trustees in December approved the naming resolution for the 165-bed graduate residence complex, which will open in August. ASU System PresidentChuck Welch told trustees that the university “felt like it was an appropriate designation because of their historic role” with integrating Arkansas State’s faculty and administration in the early 1970s.
One of the four trailblazers was Dr. Wilbert Gaines, emeritus associate professor of physical education at Arkansas State.
Dr. Gaines earned his bachelor degree at Philander Smith College, his master’s degree at Arkansas State University, and his doctoral degree at Ball State University.
Originally from West Helena, AR, Dr. Gaines was a coach, mentor and educator in the area for many years. He was the first head basketball coach for the Marion Patriots following the desegregation of the Marion schools. He was also assistant football coach in Marion prior to leaving in 1972 for A-State.
In addition to coaching duties, Dr. Gaines was involved in the area as a referee. He is a member of the Arkansas Referee Hall of Fame with over 40 years of officiating experience for Interscholastic High School division, the AAU and JUCO division, and for the NCAA.
During Dr. Gaines’ tenure at Arkansas State, from 1972 until his retirement in 2005, he taught countless numbers of students in his physical education courses. He helped guide the students to success through his work in the classroom and with campus organizations.
He and his wife Herschel live in Jonesboro.
More than 450 ASU Mid-South students are candidates for graduation, including several who will receive multiple awards. “We will award 623 degrees and certificates to 458 unduplicated students,” said Dr. Cliff Jones, Senior Vice Chancellor for Learning & Instruction. “Of those, 188 Associate degrees will be presented, and 434 Certificates will be awarded.”
ASU Mid-South’s graduation ceremony is open to the public, and everyone is welcome to attend.