The halls of Lower Merion High School boomed with dozens of community members, alumni, staff, faculty and students yesterday, May 21, all eager to honor three-star General Julius W. Becton, Jr., class of 1944 alum, as well as witness the new sculpture in the school's courtyard as part of this year's Alumni Dedication Ceremony.
Event attendees filled the more than 50 seats and crowded around the maroon tent for the outdoor ceremony as Principal Sean Hughes approached the podium, prepared to offer kind remarks regarding Becton and the Lower Merion/Harriton Alumni Association.
"The Lower Merion/Harriton Alumni Assocation has been instrumental in not only celebrating our past, but also our extraordinary future," the Lower Merion principal said. "Our legacy, we strive to not just uphold, but improve upon...[Becton] took these words to heart."
To celebrate Becton's illustrious military and academic career, Hughes announced there would be a perpetual service award in the three-star general's honor, for his commitment to the school's motto, "enter to learn, go forth to serve."
The award will go to seniors who exemplify this, and their names will be added to a plaque on the walls outside of the main office.
After the announcement, Gail Mosler Singer from the Alumni Association Board of Directors introduced the sculpture gift, a bulldog made of stainless steel and aluminum objects welded together to make the school football team's mascot.
"The bulldog is relevant to what the kids are so aware of – the environment," Singer said of the sculpture, made of recycled objects.
Singer added that the association wanted the same artist for sculptures of both Lower Merion and Harriton High School, and they wanted an artist from the Philadelphia region who wasn't related to anyone from either school.
That artist, who also created the apple sculpture at Harriton made from similar materials, was Leo Sewell, who attended and spoke at the ceremony.
"My parents said they lived through the [Great] Depression, and that life is not just about taking things apart," Sewell said at the ceremony. "You have to build."
After concluding remarks, Kayla Muchnick Seidman of the Alumni Association Board of Directors said students would have the opportunity to name the colorful bulldog sculpture. Over the next two weeks, administrators will leave a box outside of the main office for students to submit their name suggestions. The school's art teachers will then make a final decision based on the suggestions.
Following the ceremony, attendees took photos of the bulldog, enjoyed refreshments in a nearby classroom and walked to the large group instruction room by the main entrance to watch student Josh Harper and English teacher Deborah Hobbs interview General Becton.
Becton sat in between Harper and Hobbs behind a wooden coffee table where his autobiography, "Becton: Autobiography of a Soldier and Public Servant," sat upfront.
During the newsmagazine-style interview, Becton, a former superintendent of Washington, D.C.'s public school system, answered questions about growing up in Lower Merion, his military and education path and career.
Becton, a retired United States Army lieutenant general, former Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) director and fifth president of Prairie View A&M University, was revealed to be "a man of firsts," among them, first African American officer to command U.S. Army Corps, the first Prairie View A&M University graduate to become university president and First African American considered for captain of Lower Merion High School's football team.
"I had parents, who although education for my father stopped at third grade and tenth for my mother, both demanded we attend college, my brother and I," Becton said. "I was always challenged to do the best I could."
Laughs followed Becton's response when he was questioned how he knew who was a friend or foe.
"If they went to Radnor, they were one of the foes," he laughed. "I married a young lady who went there," Becton said of his wife, Louise.
Harper and Hobbs discussed Becton's military and academic career accomplishments, among them a Distinguished Service Medal, two Silver Stars, two Legions of Merit medals and two Purple Hearts, and received a bachelor's in mathematics in 1960 from Prairie View and a master's in economics from University of Maryland in 1966.
"His life is a testimony to the value of education," Hobbs pointed out to the students and community members in the crowd.
"You're what I call an American Hero," Hobbs said to Becton.