Albany State University celebrated its 114th Founder’s Day anniversary Friday, focusing on its theme of “honoring the past, celebrating the present, investing in the future.”

“ASU has a rich history and dynamic present, which we are proud to convey,” said Sue Polite-Solomon, director of university Alumni Affairs. “As we continue to grow in all areas, we are excited about the future of ASU.”

Alumnus Marvin Laster served as the keynote speaker at the Founder’s Day Convocation, a traditional element of the celebration. Laster is a 2000 honor graduate of Albany State and a 2012 honor graduate of Mercer University’s Stetson School of Economics and Business. He currently serves as the chief professional officer for the Boys & Girls Clubs of Albany, where he oversees the organization’s strategic planning.

During his tenure at the BGCA, Laster has held several positions, including director of diversity services, creating the organization’s inclusion initiatives specifically aimed at serving students with disabilities.

“We are honored to have Marvin Laster serve as our Founder’s Day keynote speaker. He is a committed Golden Ram and an excellent candidate for various reasons. We sincerely appreciate his commitment and dedication to ASU,” Polite-Solomon said.The event is held annually in remembrance of Joseph W. Holley, who founded the college in 1903 and served as president of the school until 1943. He was succeeded by Aaron Brown (1943-1954), William Dennis (1954-1965), Thomas Miller Jenkins (1965-1969), Charles Hayes (1969-1980), Billy C. Black (1980-1996), Portia Holmes Shields (1996-2005), Everette J. Freeman (2005-2013), and Art Dunning (2013-present).

Like many of the nation’s 105 HBCUs (historically black colleges and universities), Albany State is facing economic challenges in today’s highly competitive academic environment.

“For any institution to sustain itself, it’s going to take the alumni creating a culture of giving back,” Laster said. “So the purpose of my talk today is following our theme of investing in the future. We have a tremendous number of examples of what happens to universities — especially HBCUs — when facing tough economic times and the alumni are not able to galvanize and activate the economic support the institutions need.

“We also have other examples where HBCUs have been able to harness the power of the alumni to ensure that the institution not only stays afloat but also thrives.”

Laster said he thinks ASU’s recent consolidation with Darton State College was helpful to the university in several different ways.

“Albany State will never lose its HBCU status. In fact, the merger actually increased our African American enrollment,” Laster said. “So here’s the important part. We can now brag that we are one of the largest universities in south Georgia with an enrollment of more than 6,200 students and a very diverse population. And that diversity will help shape and form the future leaders of tomorrow. The graduates will leave here better prepared to deal with the challenges because the world is more diverse than it has ever been before. And the diversity they have experienced at Albany State will make them better prepared leaders.

“We don’t have to lead with ‘We’re an HBCU.’ We are an institution of higher education.”

Laster then gave a tip of the hat to Holley.

“When you look back at the history of the university, Dr. Holley was a very astute man, he understood the politics and social times,” Laster said. “He created a university; he had a vision to create it using what many would call today a very conservative approach. But as we’ve grown over the years, we have remained relevant because we grew along with the political and social winds that blew.”

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