Joshua Packwood was the first white man on Sunday to become a valedictorian of all-male, majority black Morehouse College in Atlanta. Morehouse Men are famous for their high caliber intelligence, strong values and rigorous training. Admissions are competitive and Morehouse is ranked among U.S. News’ Best Colleges 2008.

Some may see the choice of Packwood as controversial. I see it as progressive and laudatory. As a commenter said her on U.S. News Paper Trail blog (emphasis mine):

Joshua Packwood earned this moment. As a Morehouse Man, I welcome this gentleman as my Morehouse Brother. Does his race matter? No. Our nation may see the first African American President of the United States; Morehouse College will graduate its first white Valedictorian. These are opportunities to help bridge the cultural divide that plagues our nation.

I admit that upon learning of this I had mixed feelings, but then I realized that to hold ill feeling against my alma mater and against this bright young man because of race would make me no different than the many whites that had issues with W.E.B. DuBois being the first to graduate with a PhD from Harvard, or the whites in the city of Atlanta having issues with Maynard Jackson being Atlanta’s first black mayor (I could continue with many first). Do not hold contempt to this young scholar, he is obviously a bright young man and an ambassador of ‘”Dear Ol’ Morehouse”.

I did the opposite of Packwood and chose an Ivy League education despite the fact that I might have received a free education at the HBCU where my father had taught. I did that not because I didn’t value the quality of an HBCU education. I was encouraged to do so in part to become an ambassador of my people in an arena from which we had been excluded for far too long. Opportunities had become available that had never been possible for my great-grandparents or even my own parents and I was urged to take advantage of the newly opened doors to the traditional portals of power and prestige.

I know that Packwood knows what it’s like to be a minority and hopefully will have insights to share with colleagues. Hopefully he will be a mentor for talented young people no matter their ethnicity. As those who know discrimination all too well, we have a special responsibility to practice what we preach. We must show examples of how to promote achievement based on merit and the content of your character, not the color of your skin. America has become an increasingly diverse nation where we can all hope that talents are recognized fairly.

In that spirit, apparently Joshua Packwood is actually co-valedictorian which perhaps would reduce the drama if it were actually reported by the MSM. Congratulations to Josh L. Harris, the other valedictorian whose achievement must also not be overlooked.

For additional perspective, let’s remember that Barack Obama was the first black to be elected to the Harvard Law Review. Here’s the NY Times story from 1990:

The Harvard Law Review, generally considered the most prestigious in the country, elected the first black president in its 104-year history today. The job is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.

The Harvard Law Review, generally considered the most prestigious in the country, elected the first black president in its 104-year history today. The job is considered the highest student position at Harvard Law School.

The new president of the Review is Barack Obama, a 28-year-old graduate of Columbia University who spent four years heading a community development program for poor blacks on Chicago’s South Side before enrolling in law school. His late father, Barack Obama, was a finance minister in Kenya and his mother, Ann Dunham, is an American anthropologist now doing fieldwork in Indonesia. Mr. Obama was born in Hawaii.

”The fact that I’ve been elected shows a lot of progress,” Mr. Obama said today in an interview. ”It’s encouraging.

”But it’s important that stories like mine aren’t used to say that everything is O.K. for blacks. You have to remember that for every one of me, there are hundreds or thousands of black students with at least equal talent who don’t get a chance,” he said, alluding to poverty or growing up in a drug environment.

If we expect whites, latinos and other ethnic groups to look past any prejudice to vote for Barack Obama, African-Americans must too be willing to be open to diversity. If Sen. Robert Byrd, former Ku Klux Klan member, can endorse Barack Obama, surely we can celebrate Joshua Packwood, Morehouse Man.

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