Debra Saunders-White taught the students of North Carolina Central University all about courage and carrying on and determination — and she wasn’t even in a classroom.
The chancellor of NCCU died Saturday, claimed by cancer at the age of 59. The end came only after a courageous struggle during which Saunders-White amazed all around her with her gumption and her attempts to maintain a positive attitude despite her illness. It was an inspirational battle.
Saunders-White came to campus three years ago as the first permanent female chancellor in the school’s history and the 11th chancellor over all. A first-generation college graduate, Saunders-White focused on many things while at Central, but most certainly maintained a determination that all young people who want to go to college should have the opportunity to do so. And she got things done — a partnership with N.C. State in duel degree programs, a cooperative effort with Durham Tech, a new student center.
And all this was in relatively short tenure.
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Saunders-White also was a skilled leader when it came to instilling enthusiasm in students. She used the mantra of “Eagle Excellence” in an attempt to inspire students, and she made it a point to get to know them. After she became ill, the students rallied around her in many ways.
Saunders-White’s time on campus and her life were too short, but she made her mark, and bravely so.