“I must have stopped to pose for photos with people five or six times,” recalls the sophomore biology student from Jacksonville, Florida. “I had the best time.”
Aja was one of nearly 200 marchers representing Eckerd College in the parade through downtown St. Petersburg organized by Advantage Village Academy to commemorate the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. on the federal holiday celebrating his birth.
She also served on the College’s first parade planning committee—along with Eckerd staff members Ryan Dilkey ’98, Lauren Harris, Robbyn Hopewell, Nicole Manuel ’98, Maddy Morgen ’21, Lova Patterson ’00, Katie Profitt, Renee Register ’83, Tom Ryan ’87, Ann Sherman-White ’06, Rick Tetrault and Beverly Warren—which met from November 2022 until after the parade concluded.
“We really needed to have a committee to be more intentional,” says Register, Eckerd’s waterfront program director and a committee member. “For years, the Waterfront provided a rescue boat to serve as the float in the parade, but I’m glad this year we were able to put together a float around a theme.”
The committee chose the theme “Grow the Beloved Community” based on the Martin Luther King Jr. quote from his 1966 speech “Nonviolence: The Only Road to Freedom,” in which he stated, “Our goal is to create a beloved community, and this will require a qualitative change in our souls as well as a quantitative change in our lives.” From there, the committee worked to design T-shirts, engage volunteers, gather sustainable giveaways and replace the Eckerd College Search and Rescue boat with a thematically appropriate display float.
Using the vision of Aja and the design work of College Creative Director Dawn Ellenburg ’86, volunteers from across the Eckerd community gathered to paint and construct an 8-foot-tall triptych float featuring King’s famous silhouette, the theme quote and a garden of silk flowers repurposed from Spring Ball.
More than 50 volunteers spent the Thursday before the parade assembling the float in the Bininger Theatre Scene Shop under the direction of Technical Theatre Coordinator Rick Tetrault and Creative Arts Coordinator and Collection Manager Nicole Manuel ’98, a committee member. The whole campus was invited to the fun construction event featuring music, popcorn and community.
Students and staff collaborate on the construction of the new float.
“It was great to have so many people down at the Scene Shop,” Tetrault says. “We have been talking for a long time about ways to make the work we do here in theatre more visible to the whole campus, so this was a good opportunity for us to be involved in something meaningful.”
Assembly volunteers included Associate Professor of Biology Denise Flaherty, Ph.D., and her entire Winter Term class; the Arabic Club; the softball team; and staff members from Admission, Campus Activities, Financial Aid, Marketing and Communications, and Student Affairs.
On the day of the parade, interim President Jim Annarelli and his wife, Anna, walked proudly among the student-athletes, cheerleaders, and student and staff volunteer walkers as they handed out paper-wrapped candies and cloth friendship bracelets from paper gift bags.
Community members screamed “Eckerd College!” as the procession advanced along the 1.5-mile parade route. At the end, two students high-fived each other and vowed to return to march again next year.