By NICHOLAS VINSON
On campus, he dazzles students with his smile, laugh and exuberant personality. On Halloween, he delights with his annual Winnie the Pooh costume, passing out candy to every student that asks. Now, Cedric Rucker, the associate vice president and dean of Student Life, is among those who have been recognized by Richmond Public Schools’ (RPS) Influential African-American and RPS Alumni list.
Rucker joins other big names, who also attended RPS schools in their youths, such as Arthur Ashe and Henry Marsh III. The honorees are all African-Americans who have made great strides in their careers, and made differences in their fields.
Renee Carter, an administrative office associate for RPS, described the objective of the campaign, which she shared on social media throughout February. “We wanted to show our students that anything is possible,” and said that Rucker “is the epitome of a successful Black male as well as a trailblazer… He has shown that he is dedicated not only to his profession, but to the students he interacts with as well as his community.”
When asked about being named to the Influential list, Rucker was quick to thank his teachers.
“I had teachers who dedicated themselves, who invested in creating a platform for me to have the sort of outcomes that I’m able to realize today,” said Rucker. He also noted that it was “amazing to be included in a group that includes Arthur Ashe,…and Henry Marsh, a significant leader in the Commonwealth, especially in terms of giving parts of the general population that had no voice, a voice…that’s significant. And we’re all products of the same school system.”
From his community activities, to his everlasting optimism, to even his unique and inimitable sense of style, many UMW students have had a lot of positive things to say about him.
“Whenever I see Dean Rucker, he always has a smile on his face and good advice to give,” said senior business major Bruce Williams. “Also, no one can pull sweaters off like him.”
“You can just tell that he loves Mary Wash so much,” said Austin Myers, a senior communication and digital studies major. “When I transferred to this school, I noticed immediately that wherever he goes, he gives you a big smile that instantly can turn your day from bad to good.”
Past UMW students also remember him fondly. On Facebook, class of 2001 alumnus Theresa Kennedy said that Dean Rucker “was easily one of the most adored people on campus.”
Besides Ashe and Marsh, the former of whom he noted was one of his heroes, Rucker shares the Influential list with nanoscientist Ginai Seabron, who is Virginia’s first African-American woman nanoscientist, and Jane Cooper, who is the first African-American to integrate two schools in Richmond.
In a Feb. 21 Facebook post by Richmond Public Schools’, Rucker is honored in full. One of five children, Rucker grew up attending seven different Richmond schools because of his father’s job as a bank courier, as well as his contributions to desegregation in the 1970’s. In 1977, as a Mary Washington freshman, Rucker became the first African-American male student to move into the school’s residence halls. He credits Dr. James Farmer, among others, and says his actions during the Civil Rights Movement helped “break down those doors, so that I and people like me could walk through.”
After completing his undergraduate studies in 1981, Rucker earned his Master’s degree at the University of Virginia. While there, he also served as assistant dean of Admissions, before returning to Mary Washington to work in Student Life. Since then, he has worked to increase inclusion and diversity on Mary Washington campuses and in other communities.
This is not the first time Richmond Public Schools’ has recognized Rucker for his service to students and their communities. The same Facebook post highlights that, in 2016, RPS named him a Living Legend. Then, in 2017, Rucker was recognized by NASPA, Student Affairs Administrators in Higher Education (formerly known as the National Association of Student Personnel Administrators).
To Rucker, these various accolades are all “very much in the same vein because I think what they’re recognizing is a system that created these opportunities for young folks, and I am one of them, who really did not know what the world would become for us.” He continued to further credit his grade-school teachers, saying, “the teachers, when I was there, tried to help you to imagine beyond the present conditions.”
For his part, Rucker says he wants to provide for students in the present and the future what his teachers gave to him in the past, which he says is a “fortitude to keep moving forward, regardless of the obstacles, so that [they] realize the fullest range of [their] potential and prospects, without really seeing them on the horizon.”