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Friday, March 14, 2014

Honoris Causa

Monday, 10 March was a wonderfully unseasonably warm evening in Baltimore.  On the campus of Fair Morgan a crowd numbering in the hundreds filed steadily into the Calvin and Tina Tyler Ballroom of the University Student Center.  Were they coming to see a hip hop star passing through town?  A self-help guru hawking the latest fad in the pursuit of wealth and happiness?  Not this time.  The draw on this night was the Induction Ceremony for Morgan's First-year Honor Societies: Alpha Lambda Delta, Phi Eta Sigma, and Promethean Kappa Tau.  At 6:00 PM, the crowd rose and silence fell over the chamber as nearly two hundred first-year students who were about to be ushered into membership in these august organizations marched slowly into the room and took their seats.

Over the next two hours, the students received congratulations and inspirational messages from senior Morgan administrators, student leaders, and a keynote speaker who happened to be an alumna.  The speeches ended; and  the inductees lined up and solemnly walked across the stage to receive their certificates and membership pins.  Family members in the audience erupted in shouts of joy and pride, and illuminated the hall with the flashes of cell phone cameras.  Once quiet had been restored, the students rose and accepted the charge of membership in their societies.

As I sat on the stage watching the ceremony unfold, it struck me that this event shared many of the same elements as the University's commencement exercises: exuberant students, proud (and relived) parents, dignitaries trying mightily to impart wisdom to the rising generation, and a generous sprinkling of pomp and circumstance.  The greatest similarity is the students themselves.  Both the first-year students being honored on this night and those who in a few short months would be concluding their undergraduate careers were being invited (or soon would be) into new worlds.  For the first-year students, this new world is one that prizes academic excellence and the pursuit of knowledge in its myriad of forms.  For the graduates, this new world is one in which they would be required to use what they had learned at Morgan to forge productive and meaningful lives.  Challenges and opportunities abound in both worlds; but the abiding faith of all who sat in the ballroom on Monday night and who would be sitting in Hughes Stadium in the heat of May is that the honorees and graduates would not only be prepared for but also eager to face whatever may lie ahead.

My greatest fear for the first-year inductees is that they will lose the enthusiasm and work ethic that put them on the path to membership in the honor societies.  Those of us who have been entrusted with helping shape the minds and destinies of our students must do everything in our power to stoke the fires of their curiosity and guide them into lives worthy of the gifts they have been given.  But it is the students' responsibility to hone their skills and talents, push the boundaries of the possible, and resist the siren song of mediocrity.  For all of its pageantry and warm feelings, Monday's ceremony should merely be the beginning of a lifetime of struggle and achievement.  

A wise friend of mine often says that the dictionary is the only place where "success" comes before "work."  I think that he would agree that the same is true for "honor."