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Photo from Life Magazine

Today we honor Charlayne Hunter-Gault: a journalist, a history maker and a woman who continues to inspire many. While her journalistic success has given her a recognizable name, it was her teen years that first thrust her into the spotlight. Fifty years ago, at age 19, she, along with Hamilton Holmes were the first two black students to be accepted into the University of Georgia.

This morning as I drove to work, I listened to NPR’s Morning Edition and was so struck by her story. It is one of courage, inspiration and triumph. At age 19, she walked onto the university campus. Her interview this morning recalled those early memories in a pivotal and painful time in American history.

In her interview with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep, she recalls, “We were greeted by a screaming, howling mob of students, and I think some provocateurs, and as we walked under the arch, the students were yelling and screaming all kinds of epithets, and telling us to go home — in some cases saying, ‘Kill the you-know-what.’ ”

As the calendar has just rolled into 2011, I can’t imagine a world that would have this much hate and intolerance. I am grateful for how far we’ve come, yet devastated that it took so long. I think about who I was as a 19 year-old: a college freshman, excited to be a new Duck and learning how to balance life away from home with work and a full course load. The maturity and poise of Ms.Hunter-Gault was what struck me most. As a freshman in college she shouldered a significant weight of the civil rights movement.

She studied journalism at the University of Georgia and went on to a very successful career at both the The New Yorker and NPR. She looked back on her education and then profession in the field of journalism:

“I was able to be an observer, as well as a participant — and fortunately, [I was] of an age where I could learn and benefit, looking at the good and the bad.”

I encourage you to take a moment today and listen to her interview. It is women like this who inspire and refresh our lives and professions. For you Ms. Hunter-Gault I give thanks. Happy Friday everyone.