Maroon to CrimsonBy Lory Hough
Jonathan Wall, Ed.M.’13, remembers the first time he really learned about the Ed School. He was a freshman studying sociology at the all-male, historically black Morehouse College in Atlanta, which boasts famed graduates such as Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, and Spike Lee. Harvard wasn’t even on Wall’s radar. But then Shirley Greene, a member of the Ed School’s admissions department at the time, visited campus to speak to students. One of Wall’s professors suggested he meet with her.
“I did, and she talked about Professor [Charles] Willie, who taught at the Ed School, and all of the great Morehouse men that went to the Ed School,” he says. “She opened my eyes to coming here. She pushed me to stay on track, to keep my grades up. She also said that when the meeting ended, she wanted me to call my mom and tell her I was going to go to Harvard one day.”
He made the call. Three years later, he also made the move — to Cambridge. “I got here. It’s amazing.”
Dating back more than three decades, nearly two dozen Morehouse men have become Ed School alums, including Morehouse’s current president, John Silvanus Wilson Jr., Ed.M.’82, Ed.D.’85. During the last academic year, that included three master’s students. Current Morehouse–Ed School students include Ed.D. candidate Marc Johnson, Ed.M.’99, and Ed.L.D. candidate Brian Barnes, Ed.M.’03.
Johnson isn’t surprised that there is such a stable Morehouse feed to the Ed School.
“Morehouse is a place that aims to create leaders, individuals that will make an impact,” he says. “That can translate into a lot of things, but certainly that would include men who will have an impact on education.”
William Hayes, Ed.M.’08, a principal at a preK–8 turnaround school in Cleveland, says the connection is a natural fit.
“At Morehouse College, it is expected that we utilize all that we have gained to give back to those in the generations that follow,” he says. “That institution, originally founded to educate future preachers and teachers, still holds on to many of these foundational principles dedicated to social justice and pursuit of knowledge. It’s not surprising that so many students find themselves pursuing careers in education and look to the best institutions for preparation.”
But, adds Johnson, it isn’t the prestige of Harvard alone that makes many students specifically pick the Ed School here over other graduate programs in education. The school’s mission is key.
“This idea of working at the nexus could be especially appealing if you want to make an impact,” he says. “HGSE is a place that produces men and women of note who see themselves as key decisionmakers or people who will make an impact in education.”
For many, like Wall, now a student at Harvard Law, the decision to come to the Ed School after Morehouse is heavily influenced by other people. As President Wilson says, “With three powerful words, I can easily summarize why I chose HGSE for graduate school back in 1981, and those three words say everything that needs to be said about the Morehouse–HGSE connection. Very simply, those three words are Charles Vert Willie!”
Johnson and Barnes also cited Willie as an influence. For Marc Cole, Ed.M.’13, having President Wilson represent both Morehouse as president and the Ed School as a graduate has been inspiring.
“He’s like that principal touching thousands of students,” Cole, a senior adviser for veteran and military families in the U.S. Department of Education, says. “By extension, the Ed School is having that impact, too. It feels good to be a part of that, but it also gives me a huge sense of responsibility, not only to what I can be doing, but also to what I should be doing. At Morehouse, we often heard this phrase: With opportunity comes responsibility. The same is true here.”