From James Reese on MLK Day, a high school story with a surprise ending

As part of his welcoming remarks at the 2013 Martin Luther King Jr. Keynote Address in the Gomes Chapel, Associate Dean of Student James Reese drew gasps and applause from the audience with a personal story with a surprise ending

The story, from Reese’s high school days in the early 1970s in North Carolina, began with him being elected to a student leadership position along with four other students, and a subsequent meeting of the five student leaders.

Bates President Clayton Spencer and James Reese, associate dean of students, shared a moment of deja vu Monday morning, July 2, as the eighth president of the college began her first week in office. The two were high school classmates.

In gathering the five students, their adviser, a white woman, asked them to elect a chair, by secret ballot and by not voting for themselves.

After Reese won the vote, 4–1, the adviser asked the students to vote again, telling them she wanted “someone I could depend on” and with whom she could work with closely.

So the students voted again. Again Reese won, 4–1. This time, the adviser said, “Oh, I see,” and walked out of the room. Reese and his schoolmates talked briefly. “This is the kind of thing we want to change,” Reese recalls them saying. “We’re not going to let that kind of thing happen to us, especially in this place.”

With that, Reese returned to the present day and said, “I would now like to welcome to the front one of the other four students in that room that day. And that is, the president of Bates College, Clayton Spencer” — Reese’s high school classmate n Mecklenburg County, N.C., when Spencer’s father was president of Davidson College.

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