LISTEN: Ronald Yancey and Deanna Yancey speak with GPB's Pamela Kirkland about their alma mater, Georgia Tech — and how her attendance was something of a secret.

Deanna Yancey (left) and her grandfather, Ronald Yancey pose together in May 2024.

Deanna Yancey (left) and her grandfather, Ronald Yancey pose together in May 2024.

Credit: Georgia Institute of Technology School of Electrical and Computer Engineering / Yancey family

It's May, and graduation season is in full effect. Georgia Institute of Technology's grads recently made their way across the stage to have their diplomas handed to them. But one graduate had a very special person present her with her degree. Joining GPB Morning Edition host Pamela Kirkland is Deanna Yancey, a graduate who just earned her master's degree in electrical and computer engineering, and her grandfather, Ronald Yancey, who broke barriers to become Georgia Tech's first Black graduate in 1965.



Pamela Kirkland: Welcome to you both.

Deanna Yancey: No problem. Thank you for having us.

Pamela Kirkland: So, Deanna, I want to start with you. Congratulations on earning your master's degree. What was it like having your degree presented to you by your grandfather?

Deanna Yancey: It was like a once-in-a-lifetime moment that I will honestly cherish forever. I think it's different having someone there, that you know, on the other side that you've seen your whole life, you grew up with, and just be the one to, like, present you with this huge award that you worked so hard for.

Pamela Kirkland: Ronald, you must be so proud. You graduated in 1965, breaking barriers and making history. Was this something you could have even imagined for your family back then?

Ronald Yancey: No way. No. I was so pleased. And in the fact that she asked: She made this happen. You really did this whole thing. She thought of — I mean, she conceived what she wanted to do, how she wanted to do it, and she did it, and nobody knew she was doing it at the time. And knowing what a tough school Georgia Tech is and what a tough curriculum, she really did that. And she did it. It wasn't me. Nobody laid any golden path for her, and I could not be prouder.

Pamela Kirkland: Tell me about the plan. How, where did the idea come from? Why did you think that this was something that was important to you?

Deanna Yancey: So I kind of wanted to start off just like going to Georgia Tech without anyone knowing who I was. So I never — I never talked to anybody ahead of time, saying, like, "Oh, this is who I am. This my family is." Because I kind of just wanted to focus on school without feeling like I had eyes watching me. So then right after, I declared for graduation, I said, you know, there would be nothing better than to have the person who paved the way for all Black students at the university to hand me my diploma. And I — I'm so happy to also personally know him. So, I thought that was also a great moment, and I thought it was great for the school, but I think it was also more important for me that, like, we can have this connection. And I know it's so funny, like, no one ever knows that, like, when I come over here, Granddad and I will sit here and talk about engineering — the latest things that are happening in the world of engineering. And so I just thought this is another way of showing the world, like, our relationship that we have.

Pamela Kirkland: How much did his legacy and his attendance at Georgia Tech influence your decision to go to the school for your masters?

Deanna Yancey: It had a great influence. I know I applied in undergrad, and decided last minute that I was going to go to Penn State instead. So it was a school that I still had on my list that I wanted to attend. But I was, like, there's no better time now than my masters, because I don't know if I want to keep going to school afterwards.

Pamela Kirkland: Ronald, what did you think about her wanting to keep it quiet? She kept her application process quiet from the family. She kept, you know, the family history at the school quiet while she was there. What did you think about her decision to keep everything on the low?

Ronald Yancey: She really didn't mention this. She just did it. She just did it, and I, I was, so, so pleased when she was accepted and that she decided to — to go to Georgia Tech. I just said, "I'm going to stay out of this too" and I'll stay out of her way. I don't plan to get involved, you know, get in, in — I can talk to her about any engineering decisions that she might want to make or any questions. And we did discuss engineering, but I was not going to make any noise either. Nobody knew. They didn't know that we were related.

Pamela Kirkland: I'm sensing a connection with you two. In terms of both of you have a very strong sense of determination. Ronald, you actually were rejected from Georgia Tech twice before finally getting accepted into their engineering program. Why did you continue to apply?

Ronald Yancey: It needed to be done. Something had to be done. We can't let this stand the way it is.

Pamela Kirkland: How much do you think you take after your grandfather?

Deanna Yancey: I think I take a great deal after my grandfather! I'm also kind of the same way. Keep working until you get what you think you deserve and, like, what you want. And I've kind of shown that with not only, like, my education, but also like, my career working as well. And I know that, like, "no" is not the answer that I want. And there's many ways to skin a cat, I've been told. So, I definitely see the perseverance and the hard working and keep going for what you know that you deserve, no matter who says "no" to you.

Pamela Kirkland: Ronald, what do you hope for your granddaughter as she begins to embark on her career journey?

Ronald Yancey: I can see already traces of success that are coming. I can see traces and — um, not just traces. I can see success coming. And I can see her being a successful engineer. And she is going to set new milestones for women. And women are going to profit from her being where she is and what she's doing. She's making — breaking down barriers. I don't have any doubt that she's going to be able to break more.

Pamela Kirkland: Thank you both so much for joining me on Morning Edition. I really appreciate it.

Deanna Yancey: Thank you for having us.

Ronald Yancey: Thank you.

Pamela Kirkland: This is GPB.