Alumnae: Alumnae Profiles

Alumnae Profiles: Marcelite J. Harris, C'64

The Vivacious Eleven is a close-knit group of Spelman alumnae who forged friendships on campus that have endured for more than 45 years.

“We started to do things as a group. We’d go to the movies. At dinner, we’d sit at the same table. We gathered in our rooms to talk, gossip, play silly games, study together. It gave us time to really get to know each other and form lasting friendships,” recalled Marcelite J. Harris, C’64. “We gave ourselves that name when we were seniors.”

That legacy of sisterhood prompted Harris to establish the Vivacious Eleven Endowed Scholarship with a $50,000 gift to Spelman in January 2009 in honor of the group’s 45th class reunion. When Harris retired as a major general in 1997, she was the highest-ranking female officer in the U.S. Air Force, and the first African-American woman general in its history.

She overcame obstacles to build a successful military career spanning more than 30 years. While modest about her own accomplishments, she is quick to praise her closest friends from Spelman for their roles in education, business, government and nonprofit organizations.

“I’m extremely proud of them,” said Harris. “I think they had a much harder time than I did. My friends didn’t have the programs that the military provided me for advancement.”

When Harris graduated with a degree in speech and drama, an Air Force career was not on her radar. She longed to be an actress in New York or Los Angeles, but her parents wouldn’t bankroll the move. She returned home to Texas, but couldn’t shake a yen for travel nurtured by a trip she had taken with Spelman’s drama club her senior year, performing at USO clubs in Germany and France.

She entered Air Force Officer Training School in 1965, and was posted to Germany and Thailand during the Vietnam War. Harris and her late husband Maurice Harris, an Air Force pilot, returned overseas to serve in Japan in the 1980s.

Throughout her nomadic career, Harris stayed close to a few of the Vivacious Eleven, while the others touched base during milestone times, including when she lost her husband in 1996. Now living in Atlanta, she’s found great satisfaction in renewing relationships with her Spelman sisters and with the College.

“We now feel very close to each other. We know we’ve got each other’s backs. I don’t think many of us changed over the years. We have the same temperament, the same understanding. It’s like being a page in a book, and it was the same book,” said Harris. “Spelman gave us the ability to build that bond with other people, and years later you will find you still have that bond.”

This story on Marcelite Harris was taken from the 2008-2009 The Report on Philanthropy.