From Creative Child to Accomplished Graduate 

Posted April 19, 2024, 12:33PM

A person could be ready for a nap by the time they finished reading about the various honors and accomplishments of Elena Kendrick. 

Kendrick, who is scheduled to graduate from North Carolina Central University (NCCU) on May 4, is a member of the University Honors program, achieved the highest academic performance by a senior in the department of history, is a Ronald E. McNair scholar, a member of the Alpha Kappa Mu Scholarship Honor Society and was on the fall 2023 honor roll with a 3.9 grade point average. 

She was president of the Caulbert A. Jones History Club, volunteered with Meals on Wheels of Durham, been a docent at the Museum of Durham History and volunteered with Welcome Baby. 

Kendrick grew up in Knoxville, Tennessee. Her father is a veterinarian in a practice founded by her grandfather and her mother is the practice manager. Kendrick’s childhood sounds idyllic.  

“I remember always being barefoot,” she said, laughing. “I was barefoot in the country and playing in creeks. I was able to be free and explore. I read a lot of books. My grandmother and I had tea parties. I think that really helped with my imagination and curating my creativity.” 

For all her university accomplishments, Kendrick was not a high achiever in high school. 

“I did what I needed to get the grade,” she said. “I was not the most high achieving.” 

Fortunately, a couple of teachers saw more in Kendrick than she did. An English teacher said the work she turned in was less than she was capable of. An art teacher during her senior year said something similar. Their challenges inspired her. 

NCCU and History 

Kendrick first toured NCCU in February 2020. She initially considered a double major in history and theater but settled on history – an interest she has had since age 7 when her godparents bought her an Addy Doll from American Girl (doll backstory: Addy and her mother escape from slavery). 

“I was becoming more aware of my racial identity,” Kendrick said. “I wanted to explore that.” 

She never stopped exploring history. For a birthday, she was given a choice of having a party or visiting a civil rights museum in Memphis. She chose the museum. 

At age 12, she considered a career of designing historical costumes. At 14, it was historic set design. At 16, becoming a history museum director. 

At NCCU, she participated in a history-related internship every summer. Her first was at the former Patrick Henry home in Virginia, where she conducted research about the enslaved and their descendants.  

“It taught me about archival research and how I want to proceed forward as a public historian,” Kendrick said. 

While the work was intriguing, the location was not. “It was a sundown town,” Kendrick said. “After sundown, Black people are not allowed to be outside for their own safety.” 

Her second summer she had an internship in Egyptology at the University of California – Los Angeles, where she learned about translating hieroglyphs. Last summer she went on an archeological dig in St. Augustine, Florida, the first Black settlement in the United States. 

 Ph.D. to be 

This fall, Kendrick will attend Indiana University in Bloomington where she will study for a doctorate in history with a focus on slavery, specifically on areas where oppression is still occurring and how Black people respond to such oppression. A McNair scholarship will pay for her tuition for six years – although she aims to complete her doctorate in five. Her goal is to become a public historian, a type of historian concerned with both living people and the past. 

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