Editor's note: This video tribute to Irving L. Peddrew III debuted as part of the Ring Premiere event on Oct. 6.

Irving L. Peddrew III ’57, the first Black student to be admitted to Virginia Tech, has been named the Class of 2023 class ring namesake, and Bevlee Watford, associate dean for equity and engagement, has been named class sponsor.

The ring namesake and sponsor are honorary roles selected by each class. Peddrew and Watford will be honored at Ring Premiere on Oct. 6 and then at Ring Dance in March 2022.

The announcement was made at the Black Alumni Reunion, which was held April 12-18.

While Peddrew did not graduate from Virginia Tech, he did make history here as the only Black student among 3,322 students that year. He arrived in Blacksburg in 1953 as an electrical engineering major and was a member of the Corps of Cadets. He was also the first Black student to attend any historically, all-white, four-year public institution in the 11 former states of the Confederacy.

In 2003, Virginia Tech honored Peddrew’s legacy by naming Peddrew-Yates Residence Hall after him and the late Charlie Yates ’58, the first African American to receive a degree from the university.

Peddrew was presented with an honorary Bachelor of Science degree in electrical engineering during the University Commencement ceremony in Lane Stadium in 2016. It marked only the ninth time in the university’s 149-year history that an individual was distinguished with an honorary degree.

He has been a featured speaker with Uplifting Black Men conference and part of the InclusiveVT’s Virginia Tech’s Unfinished Conversations on Race series with Menah Pratt-Clarke in 2020.

“We are so excited to honor Mr. Peddrew as our class ring namesake,” said ring design chair and engineering major Victoria Hardy, from Williamsburg, Virginia. “The impact he has created at and beyond Virginia Tech is truly inspiring, and our Hokie family walks in his legacy to this day.”

A member of the Virginia Tech community since she was a student, Watford is a three time alumna. She has been a faculty member since 1992, committing herself to the task of engineering education and building an inclusive and diverse engineering student body. She serves as associate dean for equity and engagement and as executive director of the Center for the Enhancement of Engineering Diversity.

“It is an incredible honor to have Dr. Watford, a pioneer, and upholder of Ut Prosim as our class sponsor," said class president and international relations major Prince Wang, from Fairfax, Virginia. “She represents not only an attitudinal shift in our class and university goals for the future, but a facilitator of laborious, deliberate change.”

Beginning with the Class of 1991, the class ring design process has included the recognition of a distinguished Virginia Tech alumnus, alumna, university president, faculty member, or administrator as ring collection namesake.

Recent namesakes have included former Associate Head Football Coach Bud Foster, Vice President for Alumni Relations Emeritus Buddy Russell ’52, and poet and University Distinguished Professor Nikki Giovanni.

Officers for each class also chose a university faculty member or administrator to serve as honorary sponsor. Recent sponsors have included Rosemary Bleiszner, Alumni Distinguished Professor and senior Fellow in the Center for Gerontology at Virginia Tech and chair of the Sesquicentennial Steering Committee; Art Keown, Alumni Distinguished Professor in Pamplin College of Business; and Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, commandant of the Corps of Cadets.

Student and Young Alumni Engagement provides sponsorship and advising to class programs, which includes the class ring tradition.

Written by Laura Wedin M.F.A.’84

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