Cynthia Hairston

“I am number five; I hold that position with high honor,” Cynthia said. “My sisters above me were always role models.”

Cynthia described 1975 as a progressive time for women. Although Ann leaving for college was traumatic for her, Cynthia decided she might go somewhere else for college—set her own path.

“That lasted all of two seconds,” she said, laughing. “Nothing else stacked up to Berea. There was nowhere else I wanted to go.”

Despite the three-year age gap between Cynthia and her older sister, she didn’t come to Berea alone. Four of her closest friends, with whom she had gone to school for 12 years, entered Berea by her side. These Williamson comrades brought several more friends into the fold and were nearly inseparable for four years. Some of these young ladies played tennis together, traveled together for Short Term and went on to graduate school together.

Between her encouraging family and loyal friends, Cynthia had the confidence to pursue a course of study that deeply interested her. While in high school, she had been intrigued by the paranormal thriller TV series, “The Sixth Sense.” Fascinated with what was going on inside people’s heads, she chose psychology as her major. Psychology Professor John White impressed on her that the field was wide open to explore. So even when she took a behavioral class that required her to keep a pet rat—which she named Sadie—alive all semester and teach it to run through a maze box, Cynthia was up for the challenge.

With her love for children and at her mother’s suggestion, Cynthia decided to triple major, adding child development and elementary education.

“It’s all part of the liberal arts education,” Cynthia said. “While I didn’t go into college just to be a ‘this’ or ‘that’, I had the opportunity to explore lots of different things.”

Her opportunities to explore expanded into labor as well. Her first labor position was in Development, “stuffing all those wonderful mailings that went out from that office,” she recalled. Cynthia went on to work as a hall monitor, resident assistant, janitor and receptionist at the front desk of the Alumni Building.

In Chapel Choir, Cynthia not only traveled in the U.S., but was the first Hairston to travel internationally on choir tours, going to Poland and Russia.

“Being able to go behind the iron curtain, standing in Red Square and seeing the statue of Chopin in the park in his birth place, Warsaw, Poland—those are experiences that give you an appreciation for having been there and having been given the opportunity to do these things,” she said.

Cynthia dove into diverse Short Term courses, too. Not fancying herself a dancer, she chose a modern dance class. She studied mountain instruments and made her own dulcimer, and she spent a month playing tennis in Florida with her best friends.

“There is the knowledge that when you go to learn at Berea, you’re not just passing through until graduation,” Cynthia said. “You are there intentionally to do the job of going to school and learning at a high level. And when you finish, you are well prepared to pursue more.”

When she graduated in 1979, Cynthia was ready to tackle even more. She earned a master’s degree in elementary education from Eastern Kentucky University and a doctorate in educational leadership, curriculum and instruction. She has served as an elementary teacher in both West Virginia and North Carolina for 37 years. She has also worked as an adjunct professor in early childhood education, and has fulfilled a call to mission outreach, working with her church youth missionary group for 34 years.

Cynthia returned to Berea for the 1983 Homecoming festivities, where she met James Hicks ’76, a track and field Berea alumnus who had graduated during Cynthia’s first year and lived in Charlotte, N.C. The two have been married for 32 years and have four children.


Abbie Darst '03 is an article writing, husband loving, kid raising, cheer coaching, God serving, busy woman. Whether it's been in sports, law enforcement or higher education, Abbie has dedicated her career to telling stories that speak of mission, passion and the best parts of human experience. She's been telling Berea's amazing stories since 2017.

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