An engineer made history as Georgia Tech’s first Black graduate; 59 years later, he passes

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CNN
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Nearly 60 years after Atlanta native and engineer Ronald Yancey overcame barriers to become Georgia Institute of Technology’s first Black graduate, he presented his granddaughter with her diploma as she followed in her family’s footsteps.

Deanna Yancey, who is among a few of her relatives to have attended the public research university also known as Georgia Tech, graduated with a master’s degree in electrical and computer engineering at Friday’s spring commencement ceremony.

As she walked across the stage at the university’s McCamish Pavilion, she greeted her grandfather with a smile and a hug, and he handed her the hard-earned diploma, an Instagram clip from Georgia Tech shows.

The elder Yancey’s June 1965 achievement was recognized on-campus with a sculpture of him dedicated in 2019, according to Georgia Tech.

The university says it was the first in the Deep South to integrate peacefully and without a court order. Georgia Tech admitted its first Black students in 1961.

Deanna Yancey, who earned an undergraduate engineering degree from Penn State University in 2020, says she didn’t initially tell her family she was applying for an online master’s program at her grandfather’s alma mater, according to a news release from Georgia Tech.

“When I got in, I got to read the acceptance email to my grandfather,” Deanna Yancey said in the release. “He was so happy. He almost started jumping; he was so excited.”

She acknowledged her grandfather as a trailblazer at Georgia Tech.

“It’s a different world to be known for something especially as powerful as a movement as he was able to start,” the new graduate said in a video clip played at Friday’s ceremony.

Deanna Yancey smiles with a statue of her grandfather, Ronald, who was the first Black student to graduate from Georgia Tech in 1965.

Ronald Yancey was rejected twice from Georgia Tech in the 1960s, and he and his family were told he “did not fit the Tech model for success,” according to a 2015 news release from the university.

In the meantime, he attended Morehouse, a historically Black college/university. “Morehouse did not have an engineering program, though, so in the spring of 1961, Yancey again applied to Tech,” the release stated.

He was accepted upon the condition that he retook the SAT and passed a summer class, according to Georgia Tech.

“Once on campus, (Ronald) Yancey was cautioned against using public transportation or attending any athletic events for his own safety,” the news release said. “He endured isolation; no one would sit near him in the classroom. He never had a lab partner. He did all of his papers and exams in ink so he could not be accused of cheating or have his work tampered with.”

Ronald Yancey also had to complete graduation requirements not asked of other seniors, who were exempt from taking final exams. He, however, spent his last three weeks at Georgia Tech taking 18 exams across five classes, according to the university.

“To ensure that he made the grade, he requested and was given an additional six-hour exam for extra credit. He also had to write a 30-page paper on transistor theory,” the release stated.

Ronald Yancey defied the odds and earned his electrical engineering degree from Georgia Tech 59 years before his granddaughter would achieve a similar feat.

“We are extremely proud that Deanna took the initiative to select her field, to quietly and quickly apply, arrange her curriculum and follow through with the completion of her matriculation,” the elder Yancey said in the news release. “Deanna’s graduate degree is truly an impressive achievement.”



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