105-Year-Old Graduate Reflects on School’s Impact on Her Life, Career

Beatrice Payne, 105, remembers her days training to become a teacher at the school that would later become Bowie State University.

“I just thought teaching was the grandest thing, and that was what I was going to do,” said Payne, the University’s oldest living graduate. “(Going to Bowie) influenced me from (when I began) teaching until ending. And when I got out of the classroom and into administration, there were still things that were very helpful to me.”

A Baltimore resident, Payne retired after more than 40 years in education, serving as a teaching principal, special education teacher and special education department supervisor in the Baltimore County public schools.

Bowie State University celebrates 150 years since it opened as the first free school in Baltimore, Md. on January 9, 1865. Since then, the school has grown into a comprehensive liberal arts university preparing students for careers in high-demand fields, such as cyber security and information technology. A new 150th anniversary website details the University’s history and a yearlong slate of celebration events.

The original school, School #1, was founded by 46 visionary men committed to establishing schools across Maryland to educate the state’s more than 85,000 newly emancipated slaves. They formed the Baltimore Association for the Moral and Educational Improvement of Colored People and opened dozens of schools around the state at a time when the state refused to fund schools for the black population.

The mission of School #1 was to train African-Americans to become teachers. Only in 1908 did the state of Maryland assume control of the school and relocated it to Bowie, Md. in 1911, where it was known as the Maryland Normal and Industrial School at Bowie.

When Payne attended the school, it was a high school and normal school for teachers. She completed three years of high school and two years of normal school at Bowie, graduating in 1928 with a first-grade teaching certificate. “The teachers at Bowie really taught us and taught us well,” she said.

From there, the school evolved into a state teachers college (1938) and then a liberal arts college (1963), finally achieving university status in 1988. In the same year, Bowie State University joined the newly formed University System of Maryland.

“Bowie State has a commitment to graduating students in the STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) disciplines to help meet the state’s critical workforce needs and prepare students for job to meet changing needs of society,” said President Mickey L. Burnim. “We remain committed first, however, to excellence in teaching, which is at the heart of what we do. Our faculty’s primary interest and passion is teaching, and that passion is what propels our students’ success.”

This article originally appeared on HBCU.com.