Paine College tried to spend Friday morning focusing on its past but couldn't help using part of its Founders Day celebration as a look ahead to the evening's prime entertainment.
At 11 a.m., Shirley A.R. Lewis, Paine president, gestured toward a spot about 15 feet away in the Gilbert-Lambuth Memorial Chapel where opera great Jessye Norman would stand hours later for a rare Augusta performance.
"We are having an extraordinary event taking place in the chapel (Friday)," Dr. Lewis said enthusiastically. "This is wonderful in and of itself as she is sought after all over the world and usually has to have a 10-year notice."
In a way, Ms. Norman's appearance illustrated one of the main themes of the college's annual convocation. Supporting colleges -- be they Paine or others -- is one of the best ways to help society, speakers said.
"Paine College and other institutions of higher education preserve and protect traditions," said Ingrid Saunders Jones, a vice president at Coca-Cola Corp. and keynote speaker Friday. "(Traditions) are the bricks and mortar of our culture. We must accept responsibility to be custodians of our culture."
About 500 people listened to Dr. Jones' message of not only remembering ancestors but working to realize their dreams as well as one's own. She spoke of her grandmother, a Paine graduate in 1910, who was the first woman in her family to earn a college degree.
As she looked out over the 15th Street campus, "I imagine her walking to class," Dr. Jones said. "I visualize her realizing the dreams of her mother" just as Dr. Jones realized her own mother's dreams by graduating from college.
"If we don't protect, nurture and support institutions that educate, teach and instill the values of our culture, who will do that?" Dr. Jones asked.
Part of that answer was to come Friday evening, when proceeds from Ms. Norman's concert were to be split evenly between the existing Jessye Norman Scholarship Fund and the new Ann Nealous Johnson scholarship.
Ms. Johnson, who just retired as Dr. Lewis' special assistant, is a personal friend of Ms. Norman's.