Robert Michael Franklin

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At the 2010 Commencement, President Chopp bestowed upon President of Morehouse College Robert Michael Franklin the degree of Doctor of Humane Letters.

Robert Franklin, you are the gifted college president of your alma mater Morehouse College with a strong commitment to the role higher education must play in creating a more just and humane society and world. Formerly Distinguished Professor of Social Ethics at the Candler School of Theology at Emory University, you are a leading scholar and teacher in the fields of social ethics, psychology, and African American religion.
President Chopp's full introduction.

It is my privilege to be here on this important day in the life of the Swarthmore College community, and to join my former University of Chicago classmate who leads this great school as president. It is also an honor to share this honorary degree space with three very distinguished colleagues: Dr. Bonnie Bassler, John Braxton, and Stephen Lang.

George Bernard Shaw once told a speaker to limit his remarks to 15 minutes. The speaker responded, "How will I tell them everything I know in 15 minutes?" Shaw replied, "I advise you to speak very slowly." I have only four minutes and fifty seconds so let me speak quickly.

It is an honor to receive an honorary degree from the alma mater of five Nobel Prize winners, a Massachusetts governor, several acclaimed authors, a chief astronomer, and a host of global citizens dedicated to change.

Everyone knows who Swarthmore is and the reputation for excellence you've garnered since 1864. But, who knew that in 2010 the venerable Huffington Post would place Swarthmore on its list of the "Eight Most Grueling Institutions in America." And, not to allow President Chopp to have all the glory, Morehouse was on that list this year.

My word for you today comes in three parts: Become, Beware, Be.

Become Renaissance women and Renaissance men. In a time when there's increasingly public anxiety about national defense, national prosperity, and national competitiveness — to be sure all three are important — it is exceedingly important that our democracy has citizens and leaders in every walk of life who are broadly educated. So our charge is to carry with you the mission and the tradition of broad learning. Become women and men who are well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed, and well-balanced. Become Renaissance women and Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective. Every one of you, as leaders of our society, must be familiar with finance, physics, and philosophy.

Second: Beware. Some of you are headed for graduate school, some into the classroom, some into commerce, and others into other creative and obscure vocations that will enrich the world. All of you will be exposed to temptations that can distract you from your ultimate goals. Try to devise a strategy and the inner fortitude not to be sideswiped by these diversions.

So, hear this word from Mahatma Gandhi. Beware of the seven deadly sins of modern life. Politics without principle. Wealth without work. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Education without culture and character. Pleasure without conscience. And worship without sacrifice.

When it comes to temptation, don't remember the words of Trumane Capote who observed, "I can resist anything except temptation."

Finally, a word from Morehouse man Martin Luther King Jr.: Be transformed nonconformists. In one of his famous speeches, Dr. King said: "This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. The saving of our world will come not from the actions of a conforming majority but from the creative maladjustment" — isn't that a great phrase? — "of a transformed minority." Become Renaissance men and women. Beware the deadly sins of modern life, and be transformed nonconformists.

Carry with you the words of Rabbi Hillel: "The world is equally balanced between good and evil. Your next act will tip the scale." Thank you.