Robert M. Franklin Jr., president emeritus of Morehouse College and current professor of moral leadership at Emory University, urged the record 330 graduates in the Centre College Class of 2018 to “befriend America’s highest ideals” in a commencement address on Sunday, May 20.
In remarks titled “The Vocation of Friendship,” he spoke about the importance of friendship, citizenship and forgiveness.
“Good friendships help us to become our best selves,” he said, adding that “[f]riendship requires forgiveness. When our politics becomes so raw, we will need to learn the power of forgiveness. That’s why South African Bishop Desmond Tutu said, ‘Without forgiveness, there is no future.’”
An ordained minister with a Ph.D. from the University of Chicago Divinity School, he is currently the James T. and Berta R. Laney Chair in Moral Leadership at the Candler School of Theology at Emory. A high school senior in Chicago in 1968 when the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was assassinated, Franklin chose to attend King’s alma mater, Morehouse College.
As part of the 195th commencement exercises, Franklin received an honorary degree, as did Stephen B. Bright, a Danville native and one of the nation’s foremost opponents of the death penalty. Bright spent 35 years with the Center for Human Rights in Atlanta, first as director and later as president and senior counsel. He currently teaches at Georgia State University College of Law, as well as Yale Law School, where he’s taught regularly since 1993, and at Georgetown University. He holds a law degree from the University of Kentucky.
The 2018 valedictorian, Aarthi Vadhanam ’18 is a mathematics major and Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Louisville. In addition to the valedictorian award, she received the Gavin Easton Wiseman Prize as the senior woman with the highest-grade point average. At the Honors Convocation, held May 1, she also received the Sallie Warfield Memorial Prize for the student with the highest standing in mathematics and the David D. Graybeal Prize in Education as an outstanding senior student with a minor in education and planning a career in teaching. Vadhanam will pursue a teaching residency program in Richmond, Virginia.
Noah Martin ’18, a history major and Phi Beta Kappa graduate from Spartanburg, S.C., received the George Winston Welsh Prize as the senior man with the highest grade-point average. In addition, he was one of two senior speakers at the Honors Convocation, at which he received the Breckinridge Jones Prize as the highest-ranking history student. He was recently named the Southern Athletic Association (SAA) Man of the Year. Martin will be working with Teach For America, teaching 7th and 8th grade in the Mississippi Delta for two years.
Graduates in the Class of 2018 come from three foreign countries—China, India and Vietnam—and 34 American states. The five top majors are economics and finance, international studies, biology, history and psychology. A total of 85 percent of the class studied abroad during their four years at Centre, contributing to the College’s #3 national ranking for global study by the Institute of International Education.
Earlier in the day, Rick Axtell, H. W. Stodghill Jr. and Adele H. Stodghill Professor of Religion and College chaplain at Centre, gave the baccalaureate sermon, his 10th at Centre, with the title “Dangerous Memory.”
by Diane Johnson
May 22, 2018
Top photo: Robert M. Franklin Jr. giving the commencement address.