Norvella Pippins was the first African American to dawn the signature navy blue cap and gown and walk across the stage at Lamar High School in 1972.
Pippins came to Lamar from a segregated elementary and middle school. She initially started high school at Arlington High School until Lamar opened its doors in 1970. She was in the first graduating class of Lamar, and was one of two African Americans in her class. Mattie White was the other. Due to their last names, Pippens walked across the stage first.
“It was amazing being the first, first African American to do it,” Pippins said. “And being in a new situation because that was one of the first years without segregation.”
Pippins said one of the harder obstacles she experienced at Lamar was learning how to navigate a new group of students, since she started high school at a different school. She also found it difficult to maneuver around a new big building and new environment.
“Just being able to be with new people, make new friends in a different category as far as race and nationality go,” Pippins said. “Coming from one group of people to several groups of people, there is such a big change.”
Pippins would later study for two years at Tarrant County College, and pursue nursing at Arlington Memorial Hospital. She practiced as a nurse for an additional 20 years, something she wanted to do since she was a child.
Pippins is the oldest of four in her family. Her younger sister, Zina Rice, formerly Zina Pippins, was a security guard at Lamar for several years until recently. She attended Lamar’s first graduation that year and said it was exciting to see her sister walk across the stage.
“It was something you had to come to grips with, you know, because you have never done it before so you didn’t know what to expect,” Pippins said. “You were flying by the seat of your pants so to speak.”
Norvella Pippens’ younger brother Luis Pippins was the first male African American to graduate from Lamar two years later, in 1974.