Trailblazing Mary Washington Dean Honored With Building Named for Him

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An unwitting trailblazer in 1977 who was the first Black male student to move into campus housing at what was then Mary Washington College is being honored as he retires from the school that became the University of Mary Washington.

Walking around the campus with Cedric Rucker is like walking around with a big-name celebrity. Everyone knows him, recognizes his booming laugh and wants to take pictures with him, especially this alumni reunion weekend. 

As a teenager from Richmond, he was first to arrive in his dorm for his freshman year in 1977. 

He didn’t know until later that day he was the Black man to live in a residence hall there. 

“I watched the rest of the day as the hall filled and no one looked like me. No one,” he said. “That night I cried.”

He said, on his mother’s advice, he soon threw himself into student activities, running for office and losing but meeting hundreds of people in the process. 

“Even though I lost, that resulted in students reaching out, inviting me to events and clubs and organizations,” he said. “That’s when Mary Washington became mine.” 

Rucker returned to Mary Washington in 1989, becoming associate dean, then later, associate vice president and dean of student life. 

He instantly made his mark again. 

“Even walking down campus walk, I would make sure I would say hello to every single student I would pass, and the reason is, I wanted them to feel that this was their home,” Rucker said.

“My guiding mission was to make sure Mary Washington met the needs of all of its students,” he said.

Some days that meant dressing up as Winnie the Pooh to give out candy and hugs.

“Your first day here and its overwhelming, crazy, and then Cedric comes with a smile and a hug, and it’s, like, OK, I can be here. It’s OK. Everything is going to be fine,” said April Tofanelli, Class of 1996.

As Rucker retires, a hub for student life will be renamed The Cedric Rucker University Center. 

“I think what Cedric has meant to Mary Washington is sort of the best of us,” President Troy Paino said.

Like his very first day at Mary Washington, there were tears again for Rucker.

“I’m a kid from inner-city Richmond, a child of segregation, and now one of the most prominent buildings on this campus will forever bear my family’s name,” he said. “That’s humbling.”

Rucker already has big plans for retirement. He put in an application to join the Peace Corps.

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