It is no accident we are celebrating our Honor Symposium this year on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day. From the very beginning, we wanted to showcase the virtues of moral courage and honor through the teachings and life examples of this truly great American hero.
And it is also no accident that we have as our keynote speaker a person who exemplifies the very best of the American fabric, and who has a rare gift for sharing his passion, intellectual capacity, creativity, and enormous talents with those of us who are fortunate enough to be in his life.
I have known Noah Griffin for several years. When inviting him, I knew he was a highly accomplished man, having attended Fisk University, Yale University, and eventually graduating from Harvard University Law School. I knew he had worked with six different Presidents, and was a noted scholar, statesman, activist and musician. But it wasn’t until we really got to know each other the past few months did I come to understand the depth of this man - that his grandfather was a slave, that his father was the leader of the first NAACP offices in the west, that Noah himself knew Dr. King, and that he was such an impactful activist during the civil rights era. Or that he was a noted poet and can recite the works of Robert Burns, the immortal Scottish poet from the 18th century, and many other poets, by memory and with emotional conviction.
Noah is a man of faith, which I think is important. Dr. King was a man of faith,… and when his life was threatened numerous times, …and his family was threatened,… he planted his feet firmly on that bedrock.
Noah is here today to talk to us about moral courage, something that we at Webb take very seriously. Certainly, Martin Luther King, Jr. took moral courage very seriously. And the reason that we mark Dr. King’s birthday today is not only because he was an African American hero, but also a model for all of us. Like other great persons from America’s past, he made the ideas and ideals of the Declaration of Independence his own standard. He took those immortal words seriously, and he knew that it was his job to give those ideas their fullest meaning. Abraham Lincoln, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony and others dedicated their lives similarly. They were all witnesses to a truth that is “self-evident” that none of us has any greater right to live a full and rewarding life than anyone else, no matter how many or few one’s current privileges may be.
Noah Griffin is a talented performer and an inspirational speaker. Not all past civil-rights activists have his talents. He can belt out rock ‘n roll song from the sixties, do Cole Porter classics that brings alive the best of the 1930s, or glide effortlessly into any number of genres from any time and place that may interest you.
Beyond Noah’s talk today, I want you to see him as a model for what we all should strive to become. He is a genuine Renaissance man, with talents and passions in literature, the arts, music, history, public policy and religion. Now, we can't all become just like Noah -- but each of us should have some versatility to present to the world. That’s what a Liberal Arts education is all about! As you pursue your education, please take time and make the effort to make the most of yourself. We, the faculty and staff of Webb, are here to help you to realize that fuller self so that you can share it for the common good and make life more beautiful by your existence.
Before welcoming Noah to the stage, I’d first like to welcome his wife, Meredith Browning Griffin.
Please join me in welcoming Noah Griffin.