Awards ceremony honors student and Edinboro retiree

Category:  News
Wednesday, February 15th, 2017 at 4:40 PM
Awards ceremony honors student and Edinboro retiree by Aaron Foster-Williams
Photo: Allison Duda

Edinboro University honored recent retiree the Rev. Melissa Burnett for the 21st Annual Martin Luther King, Jr. Award, along with sophomore Ryan Stratton for the first annual Dr. Joseph Laythe Award.

Every February, for the past two decades, the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon Committee honors a member of the community for his or her outstanding work and dedication to helping others. This year, the committee honored the memory of beloved professor, colleague and friend, Dr. Joseph Laythe, by creating a new award in his name.

His daughter, Lydia Laythe, commemorated her father, who was also a recipient of the Dr. King Award in 2014.

Many people did not get the chance to meet Laythe, but Lydia was able to paint a vivid picture, describing the type of man he was. Before she announced the winner of the award named after her father, she gave a brief description of what made him so unique.

“Being a middle class, cisgender, straight, white male, my dad was about as privileged as they come. He never experienced sexism, or racism, or homophobia, but that didn’t stop him from intervening when those acts of discrimination or prejudice took place. He understood the power that accompanied his privilege, and he used it to dismantle the system of oppression that gave him that privilege in the first place,” Lydia Laythe said.

After her speech, she introduced Ryan Stratton, the recipient of the Dr. Laythe award. Stratton is involved in several organizations, including ROTC, Chi Alpha, SAP Mentors and the Council for Exceptional Children.

When asked how it felt to be the first recipient of this award, Ryan simply replied, “blessed.”

Stratton never had the opportunity to meet Laythe, but thanks to YouTube, he was able to hear one of his speeches.

“It’s unfortunate because I got this award for this guy that I don’t know, but I’ve heard so much about him, and that’s how you know a person has left a legacy because he’s not doing the talking about himself, everyone else is,” he said.

Pertrina Marrero, the director of diversity and inclusion, is also the chairperson of the Martin Luther King Jr. Awards Luncheon committee and discussed the process for picking the winner.

“The caveats of the Dr. Joseph Laythe award wanted us to nominate a person who embodied the spirit of Dr. Laythe, who was connected to their civility and service to others while working towards eradicating prejudices, racial biases and challenging the status quo,” Marrero explained.

Next, Marrero introduced the winner of the Dr. King award, the Rev. Melissa Burnett.

Burnett has lead the prison ministry at the Pennsylvania Department of Corrections in Cambridge Springs. She works with a church- sponsored program to provide school supplies for students while also serving on the Crawford School District board of directors. She is most notable for her 28 years at Edinboro University.

Burnett talked about what it meant to receive an award named after the civil rights leader.

“I read a lot of Dr. King’s things and it wasn’t about the degrees and it wasn’t about his Nobel Peace Prize and all the awards he received in his lifetime. It was about strictly serving people, making them better and helping them realize their potential and their worth, and pushing them to their destinies. And that’s what I’ve done here at Edinboro for 29 years and have loved every single minute of it and I will stay connected,” Burnett said.

She continued, “Somehow, somewhere along this journey of life, my greatest fulfillment has been, and will continue to be, to serve mankind.”

The recipients of the 2017 Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Award and the Dr. Joseph Laythe Award both credited God to their success and recognition.

Aaron Foster-Williams is a staff writer for The Spectator.  

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