It was during Longwood seminar class during her semester that Chrischel Rolack first walked into the R.R. Moton Museum. Like many first-time visitors, she was profoundly moved by the story held within its wall.
"I was shocked," said Rolack. "Shocked that I had never learned about this before. After the introductory video ended, I sat there thinking two things: How could this be, and how can I just be learning this now? The incredible courage of those students and the school closings is heartbreaking but also affirming: It proves that education is everything, and it underscores my desire to be a teacher."
It is fitting that Rolack was selected as the first recipient of the Moton Legacy Scholarship, which will cover all tuition and fees for Rolack’s senior year. The Longwood Board of Visitors created the scholarship to support an exceptional Longwood student with a "demonstrated commitment to the cause of equality of opportunity in education."
Her selection was announced by Longwood and Moton last week in a community update which also announced the completion of an affiliation between the two institutions.
"I feel proud and honored and truly blessed," said Rolack. "I’ve had a wonderful opportunity in my time at Longwood to really become a part of this community and pursue my dream of becoming a teacher. This is a really special moment for me and my family."
Rolack, a liberal studies major, carries a 3.8 grade-point average. In addition to being a leader in the classroom, she has devoted herself as an active member of the local community. As a member of Race Street Baptist Church, she tutors children every week to make sure they have a solid foundation on which to build their education. But despite her accomplishments in and out of the classroom, she maintains an air of humility.
"I never thought I would be singled out for a scholarship like this," she said. "I just thought I was going to school and doing what I was supposed to do."
Sometimes, that can be the hardest thing. But when one’s passion is as extraordinary as Rolack’s, motivation abounds.
"Education is the most important thing there is," she said, her voice catching with emotion. "There is absolutely nothing else that can lift a person up and completely change lives. That was stressed to me by my parents from an early age, and I can see that working when I help young people at church with their schoolwork. It’s a gift that I cannot wait to give to people."
"There is a warmth about Chrischel that is going to make her an excellent teacher," said Dr. Gena Southall, assistant professor of English and advisor to Kappa Delta Pi, the English honors fraternity of which Rolack is a member. "She is very thoughtful and reflective, and is one of those rare people who can be a leader while making everyone feel included. Her passion for education is evident in everything she does, from being the first to volunteer for projects and programs that the fraternity is involved in to tutoring and mentoring young kids."
As her undergraduate education has progressed, Rolack has found Moton to be a common thread. During her student teaching assignment in Southampton County last year, Rolack was paired with Melissa Overstreet ’94.
"We were doing a history lesson, and Ms. Overstreet explained the history and importance of Moton to her class of fifth-graders," she said. "It’s important for them to know what happened right in their own backyards—that people fought and struggled so everyone could have a chance at a quality education. That lesson brought a smile to my face."
Rolack comes from a military family and is the second of eight children. Her father has been stationed around the globe—Rolack spent part of her childhood in South Korea, finished high school in Germany and lived in both Colorado and Virginia. But the place that has always been home is the town of Ivor in the eastern portion of Southside Virginia. Perhaps that’s why the Moton story struck such a resonant chord.
"All the traveling made me much more open-minded and ready for new experiences," she said. "Everywhere you go, education is the most important thing for people."
Rolack is on track to graduate from Longwood with a degree in liberal studies in May 2016. She plans to attend graduate school before beginning work as an elementary school teacher.
Support for the Moton Legacy Scholarship is ongoing. Those who wish to contribute to its endowment should contact Longwood’s Office of University Advancement at 434-395-2028.
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