June 29, 2022

Cedric Rucker: His Majesty the Dean

A groggy haze hung over Marye’s Heights when Dorm Mother Mrs. Fee, still in her bathrobe, opened the door to Madison Hall. She slid on her glasses to sum up the freshman who stood on the porch, the first in his class to arrive, well before Move-In began: “Eager.”

Beloved longtime UMW Dean of Students Cedric Rucker, known for fastidiously helping soon-to-be grads with their regular year after year at Commencement, will retire in June.

Beloved longtime UMW Dean of Students Cedric Rucker, known for fastidiously helping soon-to-be grads with their regalia year after year at Commencement, will retire in June.

More than four decades later, Associate Vice President and Dean of Student Life Cedric Rucker is still proving her right. As a student, he wove himself into Mary Washington’s fabric as its first residential African-American male. As a faculty member since the late 1980s, he’s brought direction to students, inclusiveness to the classroom and energy to campus.

“Mary Washington is a part of me,” said Rucker, who’s known for handing out Halloween candy as Winnie the Pooh and lovingly aligning Commencement regalia for soon-to-be grads. “Relationships have been integral to my ability to not only be successful but to enjoy the journey.”

And what a journey it’s been.

Arriving from his hometown of Richmond just as higher education began admitting more students of color, Rucker found few faces like his on campus. Rather than throw in the towel, he threw himself into college life, campaigning his heart out for class council publicity chair.

“I lost the race, but I met the entire first-year class,” said Rucker, who joined the anthropology club, worked in the library, deejayed at WWMC radio station, and joined water balloon fights, toga parties … and panty raids. “All these doors opened, and Mary Washington just felt like mine.”

He majored in sociology – a subject he’d go on to teach – and, as a junior, enrolled in a graduate program promoting diversity at the University of Virginia, where he later earned a master’s degree, started work on a Ph.D. and took a job in Admissions.

Rucker arrived as a student at Mary Washington in 1977. After a stint working in Admissions for UVA, where he received a master's degree, he returned to his first alma mater.

Rucker arrived as a student at Mary Washington in 1977. After a stint working in Admissions for UVA, where he received a master’s degree, he returned to his first alma mater.

Then, a life-changing event – the murder of his partner – shattered his world, shuffled his priorities, and led him to travel, volunteerism … and, in a way, back to Double Drive. “Life is too short,” he said. “You can think about accomplishments, but you also have to think about happiness.”

Through 33 years as Mary Washington’s dean of student activities and student life, he’s organized Orientation, ruled over Residence Life, kick-started the curriculum and collected a bevy of community honors – all in his signature bowties and over-the-shoulder sweaters. All while putting students first.

“I never wanted to be the dean that sat behind a desk and pushed out edicts,” said Rucker, who plans to retire in June and join the Peace Corps. “I always wanted to be immersed in the student experience.”

Q: What’s a typical day on the job?
A: There is no typical day. It’s the rhythm of a university campus. Most important is being flexible and agile enough to address university issues as they come forward. Students in crisis take precedence.

Q: What’s most rewarding about your work?
A: The people of this community. Our faculty and staff are committed to ensuring the best possible outcomes for those who call this campus their home. Our students are amazing, creative, innovative. They push back. They’re committed to making sure this institution represents them.

Q: Most challenging?
A: Time. There are so many things I’d like to do, programs I’d like to attend, sporting events, lectures, exhibitions. Students like it when you show up for them, when you’re there to celebrate them. But you can’t do it all. I invest whatever time I can and try to be present.

Known for his astute attention to every facet of student life, Rucker has traveled the world and amassed an extensive array of Mary Washington memorabilia. Upon retirement, he plans a stint in the Peace Corps.

Known for his astute attention to every facet of student life, Rucker has traveled the world and amassed an extensive array of Mary Washington memorabilia. Upon retirement, he plans a stint in the Peace Corps.

Q: How has your job changed through the decades?
A: The complexities of the institution have changed. Mental health issues have significantly impacted what we do. There are homeless students, students struggling to cover the cost of their education, students needing community resources. I spend a lot of time helping students begin conversations with faculty, navigate the institution, and finding those things that will allow them to actualize their dreams, desires and aspirations.

Q: What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
A: I’m an introvert who knows how to behave as an extrovert.

Q: Any mottos you live by?
A: For me, it’s always been the golden rule. I learned that as a kid.

Q: After so long at UMW, how do you want to be remembered?
A: People will have different things they remember. I hope any reflection is an honest one, and I hope it’s something that for that person is positive.

In honor of Dean Rucker’s upcoming retirement, the UMW Alumni Association will offer a dollar-for-dollar match – up to $5,000 – for gifts made April 5 during Giving Day to the newly formed Cedric B. Rucker ’81 S.O.S. (support our students) Fund. The endowment will be used to support students with unexpected and life-altering emergencies.