Written by Danielle Couture
Willimantic, CT - - Carlotta Walls LaNier, youngest member of the "Little Rock Nine," a group of African American students who desegregated Central High School in Little Rock, AR, in 1957, will deliver the keynote address at Eastern Connecticut State University's 123rd Commencement at 6 p.m. on May 14 at the XL Center in Hartford. During the ceremony, 1,256 undergraduates and 41 graduate students will receive their diplomas.
"We are honored and pleased to have Ms. LaNier as this year's commencement speaker," said Eastern President Elsa Núñez. "Her courage as a young high school student more than 50 years ago in helping to break the barrier of segregation in Little Rock, Arkansas, resonated across this nation, with the Little Rock Nine serving as a catalyst for major social change in America."
LaNier made history at age 14 when she enrolled at Central High School as a sophomore. She was inspired by the desire for a quality education and by Rosa Parks, whose refusal to give up her bus seat to a white passenger sparked the 1955 Montgomery, AL, bus boycott. On the first day she attended Central High School, an angry mob surrounded the school to prevent African American students from entering the building.
After two weeks of protests and violence, President Dwight Eisenhower sent U.S. Army troops to Little Rock. The troops protected the Little Rock Nine by escorting them to class for a year. The desegregation of Central High School by the Little Rock Nine spurred similar changes in the American educational system.
LaNier was the first African American female to graduate from Central High School. She continued her education at Colorado State College (now the University of Northern Colorado), graduating in 1968.
After college, LaNier began working at the YWCA as a program administrator for teens. In 1977, she founded LaNier and Company, a real estate brokerage company, where she has worked as a professional real estate broker for more than 30 years.
She is an active supporter in her community, serving on the board of trustees for the University of Northern Colorado and Iliff School of Theology. LaNier also serves as president of the Little Rock Nine Foundation, and is a member of the Denver Chapter of The Links, Incorporated, and the Johnson Legacy, Inc. board of directors.
LaNier has received numerous awards and recognitions, including the prestigious Spingarn Medal from the NAACP in 1958, and the Congressional Gold Medal, the nation's highest civilian award, which was bestowed upon the Little Rock Nine in 1999 by President Bill Clinton. She is also the author of "A Mighty Long Way: My Journey to Justice of Little Rock Central High School."
At the ceremony, LaNier will also be awarded an Honorary Doctorate of Humane Letters, Honoris Causa.