The Sally Rodgers Award for Lifelong Achievement was created in 1999 to honor Sally Rodgers, long time director of alumni relations. This award is given every other year by the Alumni Association to "an individual/or individuals who graduated from Whitman College over 50 years ago and whose life exemplifies the qualities of a liberal arts education." This award is presented at the 50-Plus Reunion.
Recipient for 2017 is Othal Lakey ’57
Othal Lakey ’57, retired bishop of the Sixth Episcopal District of the Christian Methodist Episcopal Church in Atlanta, Georgia; nationally known lecturer and author; and a regular on The American Religious Town Hall syndicated television show, tells a heart-warming story of how he came to be a student at Whitman.
“In September 1954, I was an eighteen year old African American student hoping to enroll in Whitman as a transfer student (sophomore) from Pepperdine in Los Angeles. The admission office personnel said that I could transfer; however, I had no funds. I was referred to the office of Pete Reid. In five minutes, Mr. Reid arranged for me to be enrolled on a promissory note payable by the following May. I remained at Whitman until I graduated in 1957.”
Being the only African American on campus for his entire matriculation taught Othal some important lessons. “The engagement with all-Caucasian faculty, schoolmates and administration prepared me well for interaction with other racial groups as I became active in the Civil Rights Movement in the South in the 1960s and 1970s. Racism teaches every black person that all whites are not our friends,” he said. “Whitman taught me, by example, that most whites are not our enemies.”
After earning a history degree at Whitman, he went on to earn two master’s degrees, one in divinity and one in theology. In 1979, Othal returned to campus as a visiting alumni fellow during an alumni/admissions conference to help students to see more clearly the relationship between their educational experience and their future life experiences through reporting on what they are doing and how they became involved in such pursuits. He attended his 50th Reunion in 2007, and returned to campus to receive an honorary degree in 2009.
In an interview for the Whitman Magazine, Othal noted that, “Connections with one’s past are vital for one’s present and indeed for one’s future. At every opportunity, even as I sit on the board of other academic institutions, I hold up Whitman as the ideal of a liberal arts college. I still have a certain pride and tingle in my heart when I have an opportunity to say, ‘I graduated from Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington!’”