A global leader in the LGBTQ Christian community, a representative of private universities and a Meadville community member and educator will all join Allegheny’s seniors at their upcoming commencement in order to receive honorary degrees from the college.
Nancy Wilson, David Warren and Armendia Dixon will receive degrees in the Doctorate of Humane Letters category for work in their individual fields. The three scholars will be added to the list of scholars Allegheny has previously honored with degrees. Nominated scholars can come from all over the world, not just the Meadville community.
President James Mullen said in order for a scholar to be chosen they have to have a certain distinction in their field of work.
“Every year by tradition, we give degrees to individuals that we believe adhere to the values of Allegheny,” Mullen said. “They are also people we hope the graduating seniors will see their individual achievements and be inspired by those achievements … I believe the people who receive degrees set a remarkable example and we should all be inspired by them.”
Mullen described the process Allegheny has to go through in order to choose the scholars each year. Anyone is able to nominate a scholar to be considered for an honorary degree. The nominations are sent to Mullen. Then he brings the nominations to the faculty for a vote. After the vote takes place among the faculty, the nominations are sent to the Board of Trustees who also vote. Mullen is then tasked with calling each of the scholars to inform them of the honor and to allow them to accept it, which Mullen added is normally under the category of Doctorate of Humane Letters, but may change depending on a scholar’s field of work.
Warren, president of the National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities, will be receiving a degree for his work with the NAICU for the past 25 years. Warren has represented private colleges and universities on issues of appropriation and taxes over those years and will be retiring in June.
“I think this honor is like a thank you for the past 25 years,” Warren said. “It’s always a grand honor and surprise to receive a degree, and it’s always great to hear from my good friend, President Mullen.”
Warren has been awarded 24 honorary degrees in the past, saying that having the 25th one be from Allegheny is special because of his previous experience with the college.
“I used to be president of Ohio Wesleyan University, and there we used to compete against Allegheny all the time,” Warren said. “I knew the president (of Allegheny) back then, and I remember the thing Allegheny did for President Sullivan (of Allegheny) when he retired was they had him do a free throw in what is now Jim’s Gym, and if he could get more than one in a row all the students would get free pizza. Well, he made 10 in a row.”
Wilson is being honored for her work in the church, specifically as a global leader for the Metropolitan Community Churches, from which she is now retired, and as a leader in the LGBTQ Christian community. Wilson is a graduate of Allegheny’s Class of 1972.
“I knew from the time that I was around 12 or 13 years old that I wanted to be a part of ministry,” Wilson said. “There were very few women involved at that time, but I had a great experience with ministry and felt very connected to preaching. I think it was a sort of a gender bending thing at that time, though.”
Wilson said for her to receive an honorary degree was a great surprise, and an additional warm and welcome connection to Allegheny.
“Allegheny was where I came out as a lesbian, and (the school) really helped in my path into ministry,” Wilson said. “I came out at the end of my time at Allegheny. It was very hard to be an open LGBTQ person at that time, but there were many supportive people at the college at that time, including the chaplain and some professors. It wasn’t easy for many in the LGBTQ community then, even at Allegheny. I’m glad that Allegheny is much more diverse now than it used to be.”
Wilson added that with everything that is currently happening within the United Methodist Church on the issue of LGBTQ involvement, she is happy with her current choices in that they led to her no longer being part of the Methodist Church.
Dixon is being honored for her involvement in education for over 58 years. She is currently the director of the Martin Luther King Jr. Mentoring Program at Meadville Middle School. Dixon has been awarded many different honors in the past, including the Governor Raymond P. Shafer Award for Distinguished Community Service last year, but this will be her first honorary degree, saying she was speechless when she received the call from Mullen.
“I’ve always been excited about learning,” Dixon said. “I loved all subjects, from science and biology to reading and literature. But I really became interested in teaching when I was given a unique field assignment while at Jackson State (University) during an internship.”
Dixon said her internship gave her the opportunity to work with veterans returning from war, and having the opportunity to learn from them while also teaching them was a great joy for her and let her know she was where she belonged.
“Having a doctorate in curriculum and instruction, I’ve been exploring in depth what it is that young people and those seeking lifelong learning need to know,” Dixon said. “I know that we need the foundations like reading, writing and computation, but I think we need more than that to be able to move through society.”
Dixon said while she was in college, she had a 7:30 a.m. honors class taught by her favorite professor who said something during the class she still remembers and believes in.
“My favorite professor said, ‘I hope you will learn that it’s okay to be academically talented, but it gives you a responsibility to know how to treat others,’” Dixon said. “That is how I see it. We need to learn how to value other people and make sure we know that each person isn’t only valued but sacred. And I think it’s most important to know that we can’t do much alone because our lives involve others so much. I think when people work together they can move mountains, and maybe more, maybe they can move the world. I’m glad that Allegheny shares with students how to collaborate with people, because that makes things happen for the good of everybody.”
In a similar vein, Wilson added that during her time at Allegheny during the height of the Vietnam War, being at Allegheny taught her the importance of activism.
“I learned through my experience (at the college) just how important activism and being a part of a movement or a team is,” Wilson said. “Allegheny taught me that young adults can change the world, and can change history.”