Morehouse: Your 'House, at Your Service
August 15, 2007
Welcome to Morehouse College. My first words to this community are ‘thank you.’ As the new president, I must say to those faculty, staff, students, alumni and friends who have been here, thank you for welcoming me and my family. And, thank you for making Morehouse the treasure that it is.
And, as your new president, I am also pleased to say, on behalf of the board of trustees and the entire family of Morehouse, welcome to all of our new students and their families. And to new faculty and staff, welcome and thank you for coming to Morehouse. I hope you are having a good time here. Thank you for your patience with construction, hot weather and the occasional long wait. We apologize for inconveniences and ask that you let us know how we can serve you better.
When I arrived at Morehouse 36 years ago, I arrived by Greyhound bus with my mother. My father didn’t make the trip but preferred to work so that he could pay for tuition. 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 brief case 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 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, here, you have left a son at Morehouse.” He told me that those words made all the difference, and her tears of grief 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.
I also say to these young men of Morehouse, I am proud of you. You passed the tests of life and the academy, you resisted the temptation to surrender to mediocrity, you avoided the depredations of violence, drugs, and self-hatred. And, you have earned the seat you now occupy.
Gentlemen, you are here to join the ancient and noble conversation between great teachers and great students. When you gather in a classroom with faculty next week, you will evoke the historic gatherings of teachers and students throughout all time. Jesus and his disciples; Socrates and his pupils; Moses and his followers; Prophet Muhammad and his fellow believers; Confucius and his seekers, Einstein and his students. They were all in the same business we practice at Morehouse: the business of teaching and learning. So, I urge you to treasure the great conversations you are about to have.
Also, treasure the Morehouse mystique. What is that mystique? What is a Morehouse Man?
I like to respond this way. The Morehouse Man as a Renaissance man with a social conscience. A Renaissance man or woman is one who is a citizen of the world; acquainted with the great conversations in science and the humanities; acquainted with the languages and cultures of the world; at home in every culture, widely read and widely traveled, capable of adapting to every environment, and always raises the level of class and sophistication of the company he keeps.
‘Renaissance:’ an interesting word. It means ‘rebirth.’ Amidst the difficult days of racial injustice during the early 20th century, there emerged in Harlem, New York, a group of men and women who began to document and celebrate the strengths, beauty, intelligence and spirit of their people. That cultural phenomenon came to be known as the Harlem Renaissance. That era gave the world Langston Hughes, James Weldon Johnson and Zora Neale Hurston. They gave us sophisticated explorations of black life and culture that revealed and stimulated new confidence and pride.
In 13th century Europe, as chaos and brutality reigned and religion had become a force for bloody Crusades, the European Renaissance became a movement for cultural renewal that gave rise to artists, scientists and inventors who emphasized the intricacies of human character That era gave us Michaelangelo, DaVinci and Shakespeare.
Today, we are calling for the Renaissance of all men, especially men of color. Morehouse will be on the front line of that movement. You gentlemen will have the opportunity to inject new energy and hope into the communities or villages that desperately await a Renaissance. They are communities where few adults rise to go to work in the morning; communities where 70 percent of boys who enroll in the 9th grade will not graduate four years later with their peers; communities where very few celebrate academic excellence, personal sacrifice and moral integrity.
But, the Renaissance man is there to uplift and serve others. That is the social conscience—that inner, moral compass—that makes us sensitive to injustice and
Speaking of a Renaissance man with a social conscience… Once upon a time upon this red hill, there was a young man. He didn’t stand out at first, he was just one in the crowd.
He sat in chapel and he stood in the long registration lines.
Morehouse has always welcomed two types of students: the best and brightest and the diamonds in the rough. He was a diamond in the rough.
He went to class and learned from some of America’s greatest teachers. He enjoyed the company of Spelman women. He grew intellectually and spiritually.
One day he graduated.
And he went on to achieve world historical significance.
That young man became a Morehouse Man. And, that Morehouse Man changed the world.
Today, I challenge each of you to make your own images, define yourself and redefine the world.
Gentlemen, as you become Renaissance men with a social conscience, I have a few things to ask of you.
I will be most disappointed if I hear of a single instance of violence on this campus.
I will be disappointed if I learn of a single instance of disrespect toward a woman in our community.
Let me be more emphatic. We are Morehouse, and we will not tolerate profanity in the public square. We are Morehouse, and we will not tolerate sagging pants that gravitate far below your waistline. No do-rags; no baseball caps inside buildings. No pajamas in the classroom. You are men of Morehouse. You are better than that. I will be watching and expecting class from you.
Look the part. Act the part. Talk the talk and walk the walk.
You are the envy of the world. You are the answer to the ancestors’ prayers. You are the pride of the village, and the hope of the nation. The gleam in a proud father’s eye and the heartbeat of a mother.
Some people like to tease us saying, ‘you can tell a Morehouse Man, but you can’t tell him much.’ I think they’re ribbing us for our swagger and our school pride. But, the great spiritual teachers remind us Morehouse Men that he who would be the greatest among you, must be the servant of others.
As I conclude, I’d like to share with you a battle cry that I’d like to use from time to time. It is based on the idea that we are Morehouse and we are here to serve the least advantaged members of the community.
I want to begin my administration by calling Morehouse to serve others.
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 a crouching tiger.
Your ‘House, at your service.
Let’s have a great year. And, he went on to achieve great things.