Yet Another Reason to Find Your Valedictorian Boring…

Morehouse College's First White Valedictorian

By Max Baumgarten

For over 140 years, the historically black all-male college Morehouse has cultivated a reputation for producing young African-American leaders. One need not look further than an alumni list that includes Congressman Sanford Bishop, filmmaker Spike Lee, and a Nobel Laureate that went by the name of Martin Luther King Jr to see what all the hype is about.

This year’s valedictorian, Joshua Packwood, seems to be following in the line of noteworthy Morehouse students. The 22-year-old from Kansas City is set to graduate with a 4.0 GPA and a degree in economics with a position lined up at the investment-banking firm Goldman Sachs in New York. But unlike most other Morehouse overachievers, this one is, well, you know, white. Since 1966, Morehouse has graduated just a handful of white students, and Packwood is the first valedictorian of the bunch. According to an Associated Press article, Packwood encountered a series of sitcom-style moments at Morehouse, like the time he had to convince the photographer that he was a Morehouse student eligible for a student ID, or the time his freshman roommate found out he was white. Oh, the comedic potential.

Obviously though, the Packwood story is more than just funny college memories. It will most likely not change the school’s racial/ethnic composition, but Packwood represents a new kind of Morehouse student: one who has an insider’s perspective on the African-American community as a leader, yet from a different background. As the college president Robert Franklin said in his inauguration speech in February, “Joshua Packwood is Morehouse…he happens to be Euro-American and brings much appreciated diversity to our campus.”

Let’s be honest, most of us will vaguely remember our respective valedictorian telling us to “reach for the stars” or letting us know that “we are the future of America” twenty years from now. But something tells me that Morehouse’s 2008 class might actually remember their valedictorian in a different light. He may not have been the classmate that these students were expecting to meet when they entered Morehouse four years ago, but he might be the newest reincarnation of the ideal “Morehouse man” — bold, innovative, and ambitious. And from what I have gathered, the Morehouse campus seems all the better for it.