by JOSEPHINE JOHNSON
Following Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker’s retirement in June, the University Center will be renamed the Cedric Rucker University Center. The UMW Board of Visitors voted unanimously on Feb. 18 to rename the building in his honor.
Rucker was overcome with what he described as a “stunning surprise!”
“I am truly humbled. This is not one of those things that one ever expects in one’s life,” said Rucker. “I’ve been in university settings for years and I know that buildings are named for a cross-section of individuals but you never expect that of yourself! Not in a million years. But I’m humbly honored, very much so.”
Rucker graduated in 1981 with a major in sociology as UMW’s first Black male graduate to live on campus. In 1989, he returned to the university as the Dean of Student Activities. His favorite campus tradition is Devil-Goat Day.
“All of those things make us who we are,” he said. “Also, the special connection that our students have to one another. I love the way that Mary Washington students celebrate each other. I watch as students come in as first-year students, and the evolution that occurs along the course of a four-year journey.”
Rucker admires the friendships between students that grow and develop over time.
“They’re going to weddings, each other’s weddings and celebrating new jobs! Going to [graduate] school together! I mean it’s the coolest, coolest thing. I think we in higher education are so fortunate that we get to see the evolution of individuals over the course of the years, and I love that, to me, that’s uplifting.”
Senior history major Anthony Adams posted to the UMW meme page on Facebook about the University Center’s renaming, as well as Anna Billingsley’s retirement the same year. The post pictured a cartoon crying about the news of Rucker’s and Billingsley’s retirement.
“When he and Anna announced their retirement, I was sad a little bit but was overall happy and thankful for their time here at UMW,” said Adams. “I think I’ll miss their interactions with students the most.”
He continued, “Ever since coming to UMW, Dean Rucker has always been a constant in the ever-changing scenery here. Just seeing him walk around campus and greet students was great to see and truly made me feel welcome here.”
After his retirement from UMW, Rucker plans to join the Peace Corps. This has been a dream of his since he was a student.
“When I was a student, an undergraduate here, I had a professor by the name of Alice Rabson,” he said. “Alice Rabson was in the psychology department and we talked about service. Service has always been something that is important to me.”
Rabson also joined the Peace Corps after her retirement from UMW in 1985.
“I’m a working-class kid; I couldn’t do that when I graduated … but it’s always been in my mind. It allows me to really pursue my passions which are service and travel,” said Rucker.
Senior women and gender studies and philosophy pre-law double major Alexandra Polymeropoulos appreciated that she was able to talk with Rucker about queer history and culture.
“I am lucky and privileged to have had the opportunity to learn from such a powerful, inspirational leader in our community,” said Polymeropoulos. “He is literally the greatest adult I know. I wish him the best of luck in the Peace Corps, where he will continue meaningful work across the world. Who retires and does that? He devoted his entire life to [serving] others and that is what I have always wanted to do.”
Rucker believes in the importance of having supportive influences, such as professors and mentors.
“Students have been an important part of my life for a very long time and I have spent my career really trying to support student success,” he said. “Because I remember the journey myself. It’s always been beneficial to have someone who cared enough to take the extra step.”
Many students are thankful for his influence.
“I was honestly so sad to hear about Dean Rucker retiring. Most of my time at UMW was during COVID and having the certainty that no matter what I could rely on seeing his smiling face when we’re on campus was such a blessing and I’ll truly miss his energy on campus,” said Ainsley Rucker, junior philosophy and pre-law major. “Having the UC named after him is fantastic and it’s such a great way to continue his legacy at Mary Wash and make sure we never forget one of the most supportive figures in so many students’ lives.”
Rucker taught as a professor at UMW for many years. He has experienced the university as a student, as a teacher and as an administrator.
“One of the things that’s great is that we started as a teaching institution and many of our students become teachers! They become educators themselves,” he said.
The window of Rucker’s freshman dorm room has a view of the Cedric Rucker University Center.
“It’s been a marvelous, marvelous journey,” he said. “When I was a student moving into Madison Hall 102 as a first-year student, the first door on the right-hand side of that hallway when you walked in, I had no idea what would unfold. And it’s really interesting that that room in 102 Madison faces Ball Circle and opposite that window is now what you all will call Cedric Rucker University Center—and that blows my mind!”
Rucker plans to stay involved in the community after his retirement.
“I am just fortunate to be a part of a very special community and that’s the community of Mary Washington and I’ve loved that connection,” he said. “I just hope any memories are positive memories because this has really been a positive place for me,” he said. “I still love Mary Washington—I’m a product of this place.”