His big laugh and bowties may not be present at the University of Mary Washington much longer, but a decision at today’s Board of Visitors meeting ensures that Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker’s legacy will live on in the heart of campus.
The UMW Board voted today to name the University Center – the four-story hub of student activity on bustling Ball Circle – the Cedric Rucker University Center.
Rector Heather Mullins Crislip ’95 said of the decision, “Cedric Rucker has had an indelible impact on thousands of Mary Washington students and alumni. He made us better people and inspired us to live lives that are authentic, pursue justice and seek to deeply understand each other. I can think of no other person who perfectly defines the Mary Washington ideal than Cedric.”
The renaming goes into effect upon Rucker’s official retirement on June 24, 2022, more than four decades after he arrived on Marye’s Heights in 1977 as an undergraduate who’d go on to study sociology and weave himself into the fabric of Mary Washington.
The first African-American male graduate to live in the residence halls, Rucker soaked up campus life, joining the anthropology club, working at the library and radio station, and forming unbreakable bonds with his classmates.
“Mary Washington just felt like mine,” he said during a recent interview.
President Troy Paino noted, “Since his arrival on campus almost 45 years ago, Cedric Rucker has dedicated his life to making the Mary Washington community better. UMW is a more caring, compassionate and inclusive place because of him, and this is a fitting tribute to honor that legacy.”
As a junior, Rucker enrolled in a graduate program at the University of Virginia, where he later earned a master’s degree, began a doctoral program and took a job in Admissions.
He made his way back to his first alma mater in 1989, becoming Mary Washington’s dean of student activities, a position he held for nearly a decade, before moving on to his longtime role as dean of student life. In these roles, he has breathed immeasurable vitality into campus, serving as an energetic and consummate supporter of students.
As an adjunct faculty member for 33 years, Rucker taught sociology to hundreds and hundreds of undergraduates, and worked with his colleagues to create enlightening courses, like Ethnic Studies, designed to bring inclusivity into the classroom.
All this while he was regaling the UMW community with annual rituals that lifted spirits and fostered a sense of connection and caring. Every year, he hands out Halloween candy dressed as Winnie the Pooh, helps soon-to-be grads adjust their regalia, and simply shows up – for the arts, for athletics, for the students.
A relationship-builder, Rucker is also a collector of antiques and all things “Mary Washington.” And he’s a world traveler, having peered into the Grand Canyon, hugged the giant sequoias, climbed inside the Great Pyramid, stood on the ground in Hiroshima, gone on safari and visited the Great Wall of China. And that’s just for starters.
Upon retirement, he plans to join the Peace Corps, once again wielding his unstoppable energy far away from Mary Washington.
But Rucker will always be at UMW in spirit, with generations of future students reading his name every day when they enter the Cedric Rucker University Center to share meals with their friends, meet with their clubs and keep campus life moving … just like he has.
“I’m stunned,” Rucker said through tears at this morning’s meeting, where he received a standing ovation. “It’s because of the level of engagement of this community that I’m able to dedicate myself to the success of the students and to the success of this institution.”
In honor of Dean Rucker’s upcoming retirement, the UMW Alumni Association will offer a dollar-for-dollar match – up to $5,000 – for gifts made April 5 during Giving Day to the newly formed Cedric B. Rucker ’81 S.O.S. (support our students) Fund. The endowment will be used to support students with unexpected and life-altering emergencies.