2012 Harvey E. Beech Outstanding Alumna Award
Anita B. Walton ’92
After 21 years on campus — including four as a student and 12 with the GAA — Anita Walton ’92 donned another school’s colors, leaving Carolina in 2009 to become director of alumni relations at N.C. Central University. Some of the 40,000 Eagle alumni made their displeasure known when NCCU hired her as its first nongraduate, second woman and youngest alumni director in the school’s 100 years. Not only wasn’t she an NCCU alumna but she hadn’t gone to a historically black college.
So on those challenging days, when she anticipates she’ll need extra support, Anita wears Carolina blue close to her heart.
Evidently, it works like Superman’s cape. In her three years at Central, Anita has moved the Eagles’ alumni relations to a new level. She augmented communication with alumni, revamped the department’s website to put events online, engaged younger alumni through social media and started a 40 Under 40 recognitions dinner that drew 350 people in its fi rst year. She elevated the quality of Homecoming and added childcare. She goes to all the alumni events and makes sure everyone has a good time.
“She has charisma, she’s humble, she’s intelligent, and she knows alumni relations,” said Susan Hester, NCCU’s vice chancellor and chief of staff . “I’ve learned a lot from her myself. Some people don’t like change, but they can’t argue with Anita’s level of customer service.”
Carolina alumni have seen all that and more during Anita’s years at the GAA, first as coordinator of student programs, then manager of young alumni programs and finally as manager of homecoming and affinity reunions. Previously, she volunteered her service on the BAR committee.
Those who’ve worked with Anita know her determination. Anita herself admitted, “Once I’ve made up my mind to do something, I’ll do it or die trying.”
Like with the Christmas bags, said Tanea Pettis ’95, who worked with Anita at the GAA. “Every year we took Christmas bags of toiletries and other items to the shelter.” One year, C. Hawkins ’00 said ‘we’re not doing them anymore.’ During the meeting Anita says, ‘What about the Christmas bags?’ And C. says ‘we’re not doing them.’ And a little while later, Anita says, ‘What about the Christmas bags?’ and C. keeps going, and soon Anita says again, ‘What about the Christmas bags?’ By the end of the meeting, we were doing the Christmas bags.”
Anita showed that ability to stay the course as she moved among households early on in life, a couple of stints with her mom in New Jersey and the Tidewater, Virginia, area and an aunt and uncle at Fort Bragg before in the sixth grade moving in with her grandmother in Seaboard, where she stayed through high school. At the urging of her high school science teacher, Anita applied to Carolina, and no place else. Community college was her back-up plan. UNC gave a thumbs up to Anita, a first-generation college student, and she took advantage of Summer Bridge, returning home with a 4.0 average after those two summer classes.
When she returned to campus a couple weeks later, with thousands of other students, “Carolina seemed a lot larger and the classes seemed a lot harder.”
She became an orientation leader, a move that set her on a career path. During her senior year, anticipating her wedding to Keith Walton in the summer and the continuation of a bleak economy, Anita took a full-time job working in the orientation office and finished her final 16 credits in evening school and independent study. Upon graduation, she began chipping away at a master’s degree in higher education at N.C. State. “I knew if I took a class every semester, eventually I’d have my graduate degree,” she said.
The GAA hired Anita in 1997. She took advantage of every opportunity to learn and grow, as she has done all her life. She had been executive assistant for her sorority, Alpha Kappa Alpha. She served on the advisory boards of the UNC Dance Marathon and the Sonja Haynes Stone Center for Black Culture and History. She has been named chair-elect of the Council for the Advancement and Support of Education District III, only the second African-American woman in that role, and will be perhaps the youngest chair. She is not afraid to take risks, as evidenced by her willingness to go parasailing during a three-hour break between meetings at a CASE conference in Florida.
Every time Anita has faced a challenge, someone has been there to see her through. “I’ve had a lot of opportunities and a lot of investors in my life,” she said. “I owe them.”