Masters of the Game
Opening Convocation, September 18, 2008
On the occasion of this 125th Opening Convocation, on behalf of the board of trustees, I welcome our faculty and staff, alumni, friends and other stakeholders. Each of you plays a part in the living legacy of Morehouse College, and for that, we thank you.
I welcome the class of 2012 to its first Convocation. You know Morehouse well enough now to know that your success here is in your hands. If you work hard, you will do well. If you have trouble and you ask for help, you will do well. If you assist others who need your help, you will triumph. But, if you misspend your newfound freedom in a life of continuous partying and underperformance, you will soon join the ranks of those who much later in life say, “I wish that I had made better use of my time back when I was a Morehouse student.”
To the members of the classes of 2009, 2010 and 2011, I welcome you back for another season of demonstrating the quality of your character. Your time here is not a dress rehearsal. This is a live performance. So, do your best. Learn your lines, hit your marks and amaze your audience.
While I was a student at Morehouse, I read a book by Hermann Hesse, a German poet and author who became the 1946 winner of the Nobel Prize in literature. He wrote renowned pieces, such as Steppenwolf and Siddhartha, but the book that proved strangely meaningful for me was “Magister Ludi: The Glass Bead Game.” The focus of the novel is a mysterious game played with glass marbles or beads and the master player—the chess master, if you will—is known as the "Magister Ludi," which is Latin for "master of the game." This title was awarded to the book's central character, Joseph Knecht.
The story is set in an isolated academic community called Castalia, in the 23rd century. Castalia is home to a grim sect of intellectuals who run boarding schools for boys and play the Glass Bead Game. The rules of the game are complicated and not clearly delineated in the novel—though it is clear that mastering the game requires years of studying music, mathematics and cultural history. It coerces its best players to make connections of topics that seem, upon first observation, unrelated. In order to play, one must be skilled at interdisciplinary analysis, and rewards go to those who are associative, analytical thinkers. As the game was being played, it drew from insights learned from all of the classes being taught on campus. The game had much in common with the qualities of jazz and hip hop. There were rules, but improvisation and freestyle were the key to masterful play.
Here I quote a favorite description of the game: “The Game was closely allied with music, and usually proceeded according to musical or mathematical rules. One theme, two themes, or three themes were stated, elaborated, varied, and underwent a development quite similar to that of the theme in a Bach fugue or a concerto movement (or, I would add, a John Coltrane riff.) A Game, for example, might start from a given astronomical configuration, or from the actual theme of a baroque fugue, or from a sentence out of Leibniz or the Upanishads, and from this theme, depending on the intentions and talents of the player, it could either further explore and elaborate the initial motif or else enrich its expressiveness by allusions to kindred concepts.” (40)
I hope this is whetting your appetite to know more about the game. I’ll return to the game in a moment.
But, first, I’d like to acknowledge a few people and a few achievements that merit our approval.
Each year, we welcome new members to the Morehouse faculty and staff. They are here because they add value to our community. We also honor faculty and staff who continue to strive for better efficiency and customer service to the campus community.
So, we pause to commend those staff members who have achieved professional and educational milestones during the last year. Congratulations go to Juanita Kendricks, Sandra Strickland, Beverley Crane, Mary Peaks, Lisa Gunter Brooks and Jenetta Grace-Butler—each of whom has undertaken a new and important endeavor that adds value to Morehouse. No doubt there are others who have achieved new personal bests during the past year, and I encourage you to share those highlights with the Office of Human Resources so that you can be properly recognized.
We frequently boast that our faculty includes some of the nation’s most committed and accomplished scholars, and we are pleased to acknowledge them for continuing to advance themselves while sharing their knowledge with the Morehouse community.
- Professor Cynthia Hewitt is an assistant professor of sociology who was named the 2008 Morehouse College Faculty Member of the Year. Recently, she was accepted into the New York University Faculty Resource Network, and this summer lectured at the historic Chautauqua Institution.
- Professor David Wall Rice ’95 is an assistant professor of psychology and a proud new father. This year, he published an important text for this community, Balance: Advancing Identity Theory by Engaging the Black Male Adolescent, and also presented at the Chautauqua Institution.
- Professor Belinda White, coordinator of Leadership Studies and associate professor, published 21st Century Guide to Leadership and Professional Development: Life Success Tools and Strategies for Emerging Leaders of Color.
- Professors Glenn Ross and Roger Williams of the Division of Business Administration and Economics competed successfully against faculty from other HBCUs to become Morgan Stanley Professors.
- Professor Cheryl Allen is interim dean of the Division of Business Administration and Economics and a faculty member of the board of trustees. This past summer, she was honored to receive the Boeing Faculty Fellowship.
- Professor Jamila Lyn of the Department of English received the UNCF/Mellon Fellowship to complete her dissertation.
- Professor Charles Nelson, an integral part of our Art Department and an accomplished visual artist, was selected to exhibit his work as part of an upcoming show at Agnes Scott College.
- Professor Henrietta Yang, who supports our efforts toward the internationalization of the curriculum by teaching Mandarin Chinese, organized the “Chinese Moon Festival,” which was held at the International House and was attended by representatives from the Taipei Economic and Cultural Office.
- Kinesiology, sports management and physical education professor Lydia Woods-Howze brought Olympic fame to Morehouse when she brought home two gold medals from the 2008 Senior Olympics. She met her goal to be the first person to rank nationally in all 22 single events in track and field.
- Humanities and Social Sciences Dean Terry Mills was invited to present at Wayne State University on “Ethnogerontology and Diversity in Aging” and will conclude his three-year appointment to the National Institutes of Health National Advisory Council on Aging this month.
- We are pleased to have professor Linda Zatlin return to us following a one-year leave, during which she conducted research at four major U.S. archives.
- Professors David Cooke and Valerie Haftel received a $1.4-million grant from the Howard Hughes Medical Institute to enhance faculty and student research capacity.
- Professors Joseph McCray, Errol Archibold, Chuang Peng and Chung Ng—supported by a grant from the Department of Education—have collaborated to establish a minor in bioinformatics.
- Professor James Brown’s efforts to make the resources of Oak Ridge National Laboratory and the Department of Energy available to the College resulted in a visit from the undersecretary of Energy. Our partnership with Oak Ridge offers access to the world’s fastest supercomputer.
- The Hopps Scholars program, under the leadership of Professor Rahmelle Thompson, recently received another $2- million grant from the Department of Defense.
Finally, I am proud to report that eight faculty members received tenure and/or promotions at the Board meeting this past April. Each of these faculty members represents excellence in research, teaching and public service, and they earned these prestigious honors. Congratulations to professors Michael Hodge, Terry Mills, Willie Rockward, Glenwood Ross II, Robert Tanner II, Cassandra Wells, Belinda White and Roger Williams.
I ask all faculty and staff to stand and be recognized for their invaluable service.
During the 2007-08 academic year, we navigated the waters of an increasingly difficult economy. I am especially grateful to our vice presidents, whose individual efforts and collective team strength keep the College running efficiently while striving to improve customer service.
I hope that you will agree that our work together has led to many concrete improvements.
- Our Information Technology network has been stabilized and our capacity increased, allowing us to automate processes that previously were manual, including important functions in the Office of Financial Aid, the Registrar’s Office and Student Housing, as well as TigerNet. We are clear that we still have a long way to go, but the journey has begun and we are making strides.
- Some of that capacity was demonstrated in April 2008 as we made history by hosting a global web conference that highlighted the thought of Martin Luther King Jr. ’48 and its relevance for contemporary global struggles.
- We can take pride in our new and improved bookstore, with its increased inventory of books and clothing, and its 1,300 additional square feet of space. You also will notice that attractive seating has been added to the bookstore plaza to accent our campus as a meeting place for intellectuals and sophisticated students who sip lattes while reading DuBois and Shakespeare.
- Our fundraising efforts also have been rewarded. The federal government awards grants and contracts to institutions with high promise and track records of excellence. Morehouse received more federal support than any other educational institution in the state of Georgia. This much sought-after support will increase the number of African American men in science, math, engineering and technology. Out of 30 industrial nations, America is 25th in math and 21st in science. Morehouse receives this support because of its reputation for producing scholars who operate outside these depressing statistics. I encourage you brothers to continue to step up and demonstrate the Morehouse genius.
- I am pleased to announce that a campus emergency action plan is being implemented. It includes additional emergency call boxes that have been installed both on and around campus to better ensure the safety of the campus community. You’ll hear more about training for the community in the next several weeks.
- I am equally pleased that, in crisis situations, we now have the ability to alert students, faculty and staff via the Emergency Notification System. The Office of Telecommunications has provided forms to collect student contact information. They will be available in the lobby of the Chapel following the Convocation. If you are a campus resident and haven’t already done so, please take a form and return it to your residence director. If you live off campus, please take a few moments today to complete the form and return it to the staff in the lobby. The system can only be effective if we have current data.
- As you can see, our expanded parking deck project is almost complete, providing 425 additional parking spaces. By early October, we look forward to the completion of the Visitors Center, which will provide much needed office space to staff and serve as appropriate temporary housing for the Morehouse College Archives.
We will continue to be faithful stewards of the scarce resources we have. We will look for cost savings and we will eliminate waste and duplication. I want to thank students who have offered good suggestions about how we can become a safer, more efficient, friendlier, greener and smarter community.
Men of Morehouse, you consistently offer innovative insight, and you should know how proud we are of you. You are here because you are among the best and brightest college students in America. The College congratulates those students who are striving to achieve their academic best.
- Four of our juniors became UNCF/Mellon Fellows during the past summer: David Hill, Mamadou Ndoye, Kenton Rambsy and Darius Scott. They will receive stipends for the remainder of their time at Morehouse and, upon graduation, will be eligible for fellowships to support their Ph.D. studies.
- This past summer, Kawasi D. Weston was awarded both the Pickering Fellowship and the Rangel Scholarship—an unprecedented accomplishment.
Now that I have highlighted the excellence of some of our faculty, staff and students, I’d like to suggest that each of these colleagues has played well in a game that matters.
Now, let’s get back to the Glass Bead Game.
Let me add another dimension to the game. Imagine that every morning you awaken, you step onto a game board where you are engaged in a complicated and fascinating game. I’m not referring to ‘second life’ or some virtual realm, but to your actual and only life.
Some parts of this proverbial game are simple and straightforward. If you show up on time, you will receive a marble. If you’re late, you lose one. If you greet strangers with a smile, you win. If you are mean and disrespectful, you get put back, sometimes without knowing it. If you dress appropriately for every occasion, you score extra points, and when you are out of costume, you self-penalize.
But, there are more mysterious dimensions to this game. Sometimes the best way to advance is not by promoting yourself, but by serving others. A mystery: The best way to live a meaningful life may be through sharing your prosperity instead of hoarding it.
Castalia is a bit like Morehouse. Smart people engage in research, teaching and dialogue. People with different life experiences and different perspectives engage in dialogues in the pursuit of truth.
Morehouse has 26 departments; all are engaged in what Gandhi called ‘experiments with truth.’ Each discipline is differentiated by the questions it asks. The chemist asks one question, the sociologist another, the musician still another and the philosopher yet a different one. But, fundamentally, they are engaged in the same conversation.
And in order to become a magister ludi, you must master multiple modes of inquiry—a variety of ways of posing the question and pursuing the truth that sustains itself under scrutiny and stands up to cross examination.
Only an environment committed to that variety of truth can promote the kind of education that leads its recipients to aspire to the noble calling of equality and justice without equivocation. The provision of this type of education is often a sacrifice for the teachers, as well as for the students. In The Glass Bead Game, when Dr. Knecht becomes the teacher, at first, he is overwhelmed by his new responsibilities. The book reports: “[The job] had almost devoured his strength and his personal life, had crushed all his habits and hobbies, had left a cool stillness in his heart, and in his head something resembling the giddiness of overexertion.”
I know this resonates with some of you students—and possibly a few faculty. And if you remain in only one mode all of the time, it will be exhausting. But, as you become multilingual, multidisciplinary with a sense of play and unity, you will experience that mysterious spiritual reward of apprehending the meaning of life.
Morehouse is one of those special communities of ideas, as well as action. In 1867, we were founded to educate men for higher spiritual and educational callings. Since then, this venerable institution has shaped thought-leaders and change agents, and cultivated ethical leaders who depart from her protective embrace armed with a personal constitution that challenges social injustice and who are prepared to make the sacrifices that uplift humanity.
The Master of the Game evolved from being a pupil to being one who “transplant(ed) the achievements of the mind into other minds and (saw) them being transformed into entirely new shapes and emanations.” By definition, he became a teacher. He lifted others as he climbed.
Whatever you choose as your life’s work, we expect you to use it to the betterment of your families and communities. We expect you to master your game, whatever it may be, and teach us lessons that only you were destined to bring us.
Dr. Benjamin Elijah Mays once said, “There is an air of expectancy at Morehouse College. It is expected that the student who enters here will do well. It is also expected that once a man bears the insignia of a Morehouse graduate, he will do exceptionally well.” The expectations about which Dr. Mays spoke still exist. We know that the Morehouse goals for you are lofty and, to some, intimidating. But take comfort in the knowledge that the legendary Morehouse Men sat in similar seats—some, no doubt, unclear about their majors or what contributions they would ultimately make. While the world assumes that their callings were issued by a strong, clear voice, it is likely that the converse is true. Many of them, I am sure, first heard what Dr. Mays would call a “faint whisper of the mighty winds that (eventually swept) away the debris and trash that for so long…buried the altars of freedom, justice, and equality.”
So move forward, being persistent, being unafraid and receptive to the still, small voice that will guide you toward your life’s work and passion.
In his final Commencement speech at Morehouse, Dr. Mays said, “I hope you do your work so well that you will be diligently sought after and widely acclaimed. I hope you perform so excellently that when promotions are in order, your record will be so impressive that those in power will be compelled to examine your credentials. I pray that you will be so eloquent in speech, so profound in thought, so honest in performance, and so understanding in the knowledge of the strength and frailties of man that the people will say of you, ‘He must be a man of God.’ ”
Renaissance men prepare for the tasks they know await them. As Morehouse students becoming Renaissance men with a social conscience, we must recognize and appreciate that our preparation often requires time outside of the traditional setting. You have heard me talk about the five pillars, or characteristics, of the Morehouse student striving to become a Renaissance man. I wish to reiterate them here and ask you to memorize them. They will prepare you for mission and serve you well in many capacities.
- Become Well read. Well read men should be acquainted with the classic texts, issues and questions within all three divisions. When you are well read, you will have something valuable to contribute to any conversation. Faculty will provide you with a list of the ‘must read’ texts that I challenge each student here today to devour.
- Become Well traveled. Well read and well traveled students who have been reared in the United States must travel to other countries in North America and beyond in order to experience the essential “decentering” that comes from leaving home and looking back to assess and understand one’s origins. Specifically, I encourage you to begin with the following 10 places where movements, events, leaders and land came together to change the world game:
- Cairo, Beijing, Jerusalem, Rome, London, New York, Ghana, Paris, Delhi and Berlin
- Cairo, Beijing, Jerusalem, Rome, London, New York, Ghana, Paris, Delhi and Berlin
- Third, I want each of you to become Well spoken. You will develop the capacity to express yourselves with precision, grace and style, both verbally and in writing, to put those complex emotions and ideas into elegant words. Well read, well traveled, well spoken Renaissance men always have something valuable to say, and I want you to say it well. One effective way to begin is to become familiar with and memorize excerpts from some well-crafted, well delivered orations, including Dr. Martin Luther King’s “I Have a Dream”; Frederick Douglass’ “July Fourth Address”; C.L. Franklin’s “The Eagle Stirs Her Nest”; and Malcolm X’s “The Ballot or the Bullet.” Find these great proclamations and become familiar with them.
- Be Well dressed. Well read, well traveled, well spoken and well dressed. Brothers, these are awesome traits when combined, and they help you make the right first impression. There is a time and place for every cultural costume, and I assert that some of them—such as pants sagging below your waistline—have no place in the classroom or in the workplace. Do not self-penalize by entering the public square in the equivalent of a black tuxedo with brown shoes.
- Finally, I want you to become Well balanced. This affirms the importance of a well-rounded existence built upon the wise allocation of time and effort. There is a time for relaxation and a time for study; a time for sports and recreation and a time for worship and spiritual nourishment. This semester, pursue a new recreational interest—golf or chess. Visit a new church or explore a religious tradition that is unfamiliar to you. You’ll find your horizons permanently broadened.
Today, you will receive a token of your participation in the game of enlightenment. This little glass bead should serve as a reminder that the 2008 academic year is a great contest. Put it in a safe place and occasionally look at it. And ask yourself, “How am I doing as an intellectual and moral player?”
Where will you land in this great contest? Will you be a skilled player? Will you fail to try and end up a loser? Or will you venture to become a master of the game?
I’d like to challenge the men of Morehouse to devise a game, to craft the rules of engagement that symbolize what we are doing at Morehouse. The people who brought you to Morehouse taught you the basic moves of the game. But, now you must master a new set of moves. The question is, “Are you prepared to become a master of the game?” Look carefully at the faculty and staff who sit before you. Each of them knows important moves and strategies that can assist you in your game theory. Morehouse has never been known for producing mere players. Other colleges can do that. Morehouse has been known and will continue to produce masters of the game.
- Dr. King learned the game at Morehouse and went on to win a Ph.D. and a Nobel Peace Prize;
- Spike Lee learned the game right here, and he has revolutionized filmmaking and educated the world;
- Julian Bond learned the game at Morehouse and has been a drum major for justice at the NAACP;
- David Satcher played right here and went on to master the game as United States Surgeon General;
- Now, look to your left and look to your right. You are looking at a potential master; a game master; a game changer; a voice for justice and truth.
Let my words conclude and let the game begin!
Players, play on!