July 6, 2023

Grandfather Marches With Grandchildren at Graduation

Oakwood University event reminds participants the key role of Adventist education.

R. Steven Norman III, Southern Tidings
William O. Freeman, Oakwood University Class of 1973, marched with his grandson and granddaughter, both graduates of the Class of 2023, on May 13. [Photo: Elaine Humphreys Norman]

William Freeman and his family got excited when they learned during Oakwood University’s Homecoming that he and two of his grandchildren might have the opportunity to march together during the baccalaureate service. Freeman would be one of 35 members of the Oakwood Class of 1973 in Huntsville, Alabama, United States, celebrating the 50th anniversary of their graduation by marching in gold regalia and wearing 50th anniversary medallions. Freeman’s grandson, Harold U. Freeman Jr., a civil engineering major, and granddaughter, Pariss Holbert, who majored in pre-law, would be members of the 2023 Oakwood University graduating class. This would be the second time two of his grandchildren graduated from Oakwood together. The first time he watched them, but this time he wanted to walk with them.

Such an opportunity would be a capstone event for Freeman, a longtime supporter of Adventist education. He and his wife, the late Loretta Young Freeman, attended Oakwood, then sent all five of their children and a niece to Oakwood. As a pastor, Freeman and his wife established an elementary school in Hattiesburg, Mississippi, where she was the teacher-principal. Because he was also a builder, he helped with the construction of the Eva B. Dykes Library and O. B. Edwards Hall on the campus of Oakwood while he was a theology student. As the conference builder for the South Central Conference of the Adventist Church, he constructed two or three schools and numerous churches.

Freeman believes Adventist education should be free to students. “Churches and members should give enough money for Adventist education that teachers can be paid, and every parent be able to send their children to school free,” Freeman said. He underwrites his conviction by sponsoring students. Indeed, on the 50th anniversary of his graduation, he contributed to the Class of 1973 Needy Student Endowment Fund at Oakwood. He believes his vision could be realized if every student who receives an education became a philanthropist who gives to help other students.

After a lifetime of supporting Adventist education, Freeman rode to the Von Braun Civic Center on May 13, looking forward to participating in the Sabbath morning baccalaureate service. However, he had a dilemma. He is blind and was not sure how to get to Harold and Pariss. Pastor Michael Paschal learned of his dilemma and led him to his grandchildren, who chose to walk with him in the Golden Class. Soon they were walking arm in arm down the aisle to the cadence of Mendelssohn’s “The War March of the Priests.”

Looking back on the opportunity to walk with her grandfather, Pariss shared, “It was such a great moment to walk with not only my cousin but my grandfather; to see the results of working hard and receiving degrees through successive generations — first my grandparents, then parents, and now my cousins and me. It was a moment of Black excellence for me, and I am so happy I was able to share that moment with my family.”

When asked how it felt to march with his grandchildren, Freeman smiled and said, “It was grand! I just couldn’t take it all in since I do not have any vision.” Freeman may have lost his physical vision, but his vision for education and commitment is as strong as ever.

The original version of this story was posted on Southern Tidings.