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New Student Orientation – Opening Assembly Wednesday, August 18, 2010 10:30 a.m. Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel On behalf of the 43 members of our board of trustees, a distinguished faculty of 165 men and women, a tireless staff of more than 400 people, and more than 15,000 living graduates, I welcome each member of the class of 2014—and your families— to Morehouse College. Allow me to also acknowledge that yesterday was a wonderful first day and that, throughout the day, I received on behalf of the entire Morehouse family your abundant compliments and praise. We recognize, however, that there were a few departures from our usual standards of excellence. I accept 2 responsibility for them. For each of those departures, I ask that you accept my apology and, more important, my pledge to see that they are corrected and never repeated. Seeing the men of 2014 arrive with parents and families transports me 38 years back in time. I arrived from Chicago by Greyhound bus with my mother. My father didn’t make the 18- hour trip, preferring to work so that he could pay for tuition, then at the exorbitant rate of $3,000 per year. The day of registration, my mother and I took a taxi from Paschal’s Hotel and, when I saw the long line of brothers attempting to register at Graves Hall, I told Mom to leave me on Fair Street a short distance from the gate so no one would see her escort me to the door. I wore a shirt and tie and had a snazzy new Samsonite briefcase given by the proud members of my local church. I felt that I was “Mr. Morehouse,” all set to dive into the mystique. Years later, an uncle told me that my mother called him in tears as she returned home alone. She had just left her baby at 3 Morehouse. My uncle interrupted her and said, “Dorothy, listen to what you just said. You left him at Morehouse College. Some mothers are crying today because they have left their sons in jail. And some have left their sons in a morgue. But you have left a son at Morehouse.” He told me that those words made all the difference, and her tears of grief immediately transformed to joy and pride. So this is a word to parents. Leave your sons, grandsons and young men at Morehouse and be proud of what you have done. Although it may be difficult and painful to separate, do it for his sake. You’re leaving him in good hands. He will mature into a Morehouse man, and we’ll all be the better. As we begin my fourth year as president, my “senior” year, I want to share a few observations that I think will make the transition from high school to life at one of the nation’s “most grueling colleges” easier and more seamless. And I firmly believe that, if adhered to, these suggestions—the seven habits of highly successful men of Morehouse, to paraphrase leadership guru Dr. 4 Stephen Covey—will serve you well during the next four years and beyond. 1) Seize responsibility for your education. Attend every class that you are able to attend. Contrary to what some might say, your consistent attendance is important—even if you already understand the material. Classroom discussion provides the immediate, dynamic, highly interactive exchanges and insight to which you would not otherwise be exposed. Complete every assignment and keep every appointment. If you must change or cancel an appointment, be responsible and respectful enough to alert others well in advance instead of wasting their time and hurting your reputation. It will show that you are serious about learning and that you are dependable. Be a man of your word. And remember the Morehouse adage: “To be early is to be on time; to be on time is late; and to be late is unacceptable.” 2) Take good notes. They will be of paramount importance 5 when you’re studying for tests, particularly midterms and finals— when the material may no longer be so fresh in your memory. Make an effort to meet with your professors outside of the classroom. Not even a professor’s syllabus can take the place of personal interaction when it comes to understanding his or her expectations. And be an academic entrepreneur; that is, manage your own business. Tell your parents, “Mom, Dad, I know you’re used to doing things for me, but I’ve got this!” 3) Embrace learning and discovery as a new and exciting adventure. In an earlier speech (which you can find online) inspired by the Nobel Laureate Hermann Hesse, I referred to college as an intellectual game and to all the men of Morehouse as “masters of the game.” Regard every article or book you read as the opening of a conversation with a new friend, one that should last the rest of your life. H.G. Wells had it right when he observed, “More powerful than a standing army is an idea whose time has come.” Make your 6 learning come alive. If you find the material or the professor or your classmates insufficiently inspired, you bring the inspiration, the creative new point of view, and the well-crafted question that explodes like a chemical reaction. At Morehouse, it’s okay to be smart! In fact, the smart guys run this show. The cool nerds have the juice and are the most charismatic and interesting brothers on the block. But one of the things I loved about Morehouse in my student years was that although we competed intellectually, we never stooped to being mean-spirited towards our vanquished foes. We always left their dignity intact and extended a helping hand to lift the other brother. 4) Select your peer group wisely. An African proverb declares, “If you want to travel quickly, go alone. But if you want to travel far, go with others.” Travel only with those who have chosen a lofty goal as their destination. It is sometimes unfair, but you are judged by the company you keep. And you don’t need the added burden of a friend holding you back from your dreams. 7 Also, in case you haven’t already noticed, there are plenty of attractive young women in the AU Center. Choose one who is serious and mature. Be responsible and be respectful of others. And if things are not working out, don’t play her. Be honest, dissolve the relationship in a compassionate way and move on. Be respectful of your brothers when you invite a friend to our campus or your residence hall. We have had a few instances of visitors who were unaware of our expectations, came to visit, behaved badly, and then departed never to be seen again. But they damaged Morehouse, and your behavior enabled that. 5) Request help if you need it. Those who seek help do exceedingly well. Those who wait until they are already in profound academic jeopardy before seeking assistance always regret it. Some brothers think it is not manly to ask for help. On the contrary, it is unwise and childish to find yourself in trouble and not speak up. You are paying the faculty to help you, so ask for help. 8 You are now part of a brotherhood. We are here to help you. Just ask. 6) Avoid people and situations that could threaten your success or safety. Do not venture out alone into unknown territory, especially at night. Nothing good happens after midnight around here. Your intellect alone cannot protect you from the elements that others bring into our community. Do not use illegal drugs. And certainly, do not sell them. Not only will they impair your mind, but they will ruin your life. If you are under the legal age, do not drink alcohol and, by all means, no one should drink or smoke and drive. Real men of Morehouse are incapable of abusing and disrespecting women physically or verbally. If she says, “No,” that means no. And if you disrespect her, I will take a personal interest in seeing that you move quickly through our campus judicial process. We do not hurt our fellow students in any way. Curtail the impulse to be violent, mean, or intolerant. 9 Do not cheat. If you quote another author, you must cite that author. Practice decorum on the social networks: Facebook, Twitter, etc. Do not repeat malicious words or gossip about others. Be a leader and a man of integrity who puts the fire out instead of fanning the flames for your personal enjoyment. As important as your presence is to the Morehouse community, if you break the rules and erode the community, you will have proved that we made a mistake in admitting you, and you will not be here for long. 7) Cherish the privilege of attending college. Realize that only 27% of all Americans have earned a college degree. The vast majority of Americans have not done what you are preparing to do: finish college. And only 18% of black people in this country have completed college degrees. So being here is a privilege that you should cherish. Make those who nurtured you and sacrificed so that you could be here proud of your behavior, as well as your future accomplishments. 10 Last night, you heard of the five characteristics that I wish to hold above your heads, along with the crown you will someday wear. Affectionately known as the “five wells,” they express the substance and style of the men who will help to lead a renaissance in our communities. Renaissance means rebirth. And in most of our communities, there is a need for rebirth, another chance. But communities need leaders who can catalyze and guide the process. They need Renaissance Men. • Become well-read. Read physics and philosophy; read finance and poetry. Then, put these disciplines into innovative and unprecedented dialogue and dialectical tension. • Second, become well-spoken. Have something valuable to say, and say it well. Express yourselves with precision, grace, and style, both orally and in writing. You’ve come here to learn to put complex emotions and ideas into elegant 11 words. Develop what Aristotle called “the art of rhetoric.” Remember the three Bs: be good, be brief, and be seated. • Third, become well-traveled. Plan now to voyage to distant lands. Experience the “decentering” that comes from leaving home and looking back to assess and understand one’s origins. We are blessed to have many international students who know this and can assist the rest of us. My junior year was spent in England, and I became a better Morehouse Man because of it. Take advantage of the many opportunities Morehouse offers its students to travel and study abroad. Travel to the edges of the world and take the Morehouse banner with you. Get out of your parent’s house and out of Morehouse to see the world. • Fourth, become well-dressed. Make the right first impression. Whether you like it not, people see you coming down the street or corridor before they meet you and hear your brilliant and charming conversation. There is a time and 12 a place for every cultural wardrobe. Well dressed doesn’t mean shirts, ties, and suits only. We celebrate diversity, but we expect professionalism, neatness, and dignity in all things. Perhaps some of you have seen the September 2010 “Back to College” issue of Ebony. In a nice piece on Morehouse, the magazine affirms our tradition of leadership development and high academic expectations. But it dwells excessively on the dress code. Over the past year, we have spent a lot of time explaining and defending our appropriate attire code. As my chief of staff Fran Calhoun suggests, it’s time to change the conversation. I do not wish to talk further about dress codes. The topic is uninspiring when compared to the other four wells. I’d rather talk about Dunbar and DuBois, Aristotle and Shakespeare. So let’s spend the rest of the year focused on becoming well read, spoken, traveled, and balanced. • Finally, become well-balanced. Morehouse teaches us to possess healthy minds that reside within healthy bodies 13 governed by healthy values. Remember that phrase: healthy minds inside healthy bodies governed by healthy values. This affirms the importance of a well-rounded existence built upon the wise allocation of time and effort. To everything there is a season and a time for every purpose under the sun. A time for relaxation and a time (a lot of time) for study; a time for sports and recreation and a time for worship and spiritual nourishment. Dr. DuBois said that university should be a place for “hard work and hard play.” Lead by your example of integrity, humility, and goodness. We are a college that values leadership, so let your leading begin here. When others are making bad decisions, have the courage to say no and to move in another direction. Do not succumb to the immoral and mindless pressures expressed in the phrase, “Don’t snitch.” That’s the same message that the Ku Klux Klan promoted when they wore sheets over their heads to hide their identities and threatened those who knew them to keep quiet. 14 Do not allow crime and bad behavior to invade Morehouse while you sit timidly on the sideline of history. Rabbi Hillel, a 1st century Jewish contemporary of Jesus of Nazareth said, “The world is equally balanced between good and evil, and your next act will tip the scales.” Sometimes, one man can make a difference. One man stood in front of a line of Chinese military tanks in Tiananmen Square on June 5, 1989, and stopped them temporarily. He also stopped our hearts and inspired our courage. One man, a Morehouse man, sat alone in a Birmingham jail cell and, in his idle hours, began to compose a moral treatise unparalleled in modern moral philosophy and civil disobedience. And I might add, he used the talents he honed in English, history, sociology, and religion classes right on this campus to spur a nation toward change. You, too, should lead us toward that which is good and right and encourage your fellow students to follow your lead. One man can make a difference. 15 I close by asking you to help me. Each year, I remind the men of Morehouse that we are called to serve. We are Morehouse and we are here to serve the least advantaged members of the community. But what if they do not know who we are and why we exist? We must tell them. So, men of Morehouse, please stand. When I declare the word, “Morehouse,” you will respond with five simple words: “Your ‘House, at your service.” When you say this, I want you to roar so loud that an African lion in the Serengeti will pause because he has heard the roar of crouching tigers on this red hill. Morehouse! Your ’House, at your service!
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