David Swinton earned an “A” from students who quizzed him on stage Saturday as part of a festive salute to his 20 years as president of Benedict College.
Swinton correctly answered all three true-or-false questions posed by a group of international students, including whether Spanish is the official language of Brazil. (False.)
As part of the 26th annual Harambee Festival, centered in the gym at the downtown campus, the president sat front and center for a fast-paced tribute of African drumming and dancing, gospel music, jazz and beauty queens. Behind him, the gym was crowded with people shopping for clothing, perfumes, books and jewelry at an African-themed market.
Swinton, upon receiving his “report card” from the International Students Association, stepped away from the festivities to voice his pleasure with the tribute.
“I really didn’t want them to make a big fuss out of things, but they do what they want to do,” said Swinton, who has led the historically black institution since 1994. “It’s gratifying.”
Outside, the lawn was set up with food trucks and a children’s bounce house at the festival of art, history and culture that draws about 6,000 people to the campus each year.
“This is something I’ve been doing for years, coming here. The atmosphere is nice,” said Emma Davis, eating a lunch of fried fish at a table in the sun.
She said Swinton has been a “down-to-earth” administrator whom she appreciates for keeping the college going. “Since he’s been here, there have been a lot of improvements.”
Across the table, the Rev. Rufus Cunningham said he was pleased for an opportunity to interact with students on campus. “The way he opens the college to the community, that’s an added benefit,” said Cunningham, awaiting his turn on stage with the Benedict Community Choir.
Kimberly Spear, class of 2009, said Swinton has been an innovative leader, focused on improving campus life for students.
His tenure has been defined by a building boom, including the restoration of historic structures and construction of a multi-million-dollar sports complex; outreach into nearby neighborhoods with community development efforts; and growth in both the student body and degree programs.
The president said he has no plans to retire, but added that after 20 years at Benedict, “I’m closer to the end than I am to the beginning.”