Elizabeth City, N.C. – To commemorate the 133rd anniversary of the establishment of Elizabeth City State University, the university welcomed Otis L. Smallwood ’94 back home with open arms.

“I do not take this opportunity lightly,” Smallwood said. “Our founders believed that everyone should have access to a quality, affordable education. And it is that legacy that guides us forward.”

Smallwood is the superintendent of Bertie County Schools and is currently in the 31st year of his career in education. During his keynote address, Smallwood shared his personal story of starting from a place of trauma.

Born the last of seven children in a home wrought with poverty and struggle, his mother was a high school graduate who never furthered her education, and his father, a high school dropout who was an alcoholic, and abusive.

“Kids from families like this typically become a negative statistic,” he said.

However, that would not be Smallwood’s story. He credits the push from his mother, his siblings, and the dynamic educators who taught him in Bertie County and at ECSU.

“(I) encountered professors who reminded me of my teachers back home,” he said. “These professionals saw something in (me) that made them push me.”

Their belief in him, their encouragement, and unwavering support is what has afforded him the opportunity to “positively influence kids on a daily basis,” Smallwood shared.

His parting words for current Vikings, “make connections and build positive relationships.”

“We always harvest more than what we plant. Begin to sow into your university now,” Smallwood said. “The future is yours to share.”