2018 SENIOR PROFILES
With Commencement just around the corner, we wanted to take a little time and focus on some of our outstanding graduating seniors. Click on each name below to learn more about these amazing soon-to-be #MorehouseMen.
|Jerrell Melton III|
Valedictorian To Achieve “Firsts” as Morehouse Man
By Aileen Dodd
Derrick Parker is the kind of student that teachers always seem to remember—gifted, ambitious, and relentless in his pursuit of excellence. His parents would expect nothing less. They’ve had high hopes for him.
Parker, of Kansas City, Mo., would be the first in his family of six to attend college. It was his parents’ dream. It was why they labored day after day until their hands and feet ached. His father, Derrick Parker Sr., cut heads in a barber’s chair. His mom, Nicole Courtney, toiled as a machine operator. It was a good, honest living, but not want they wanted for their oldest son.
And Parker was a high achiever who did not want to disappoint. So, he made a promise to himself that he kept: to work hard enough to earn straight A’s and a scholarship to cover his tuition. On Sunday, the Gates Millennium Scholar will graduate from Morehouse College with a perfect 4.0 as the Class Valedictorian.
“My parents have been such a great support system to me over the years, but I knew that they couldn’t afford to send me to college,” said the political science major. “My goal was to go to college and not have my parents pay a dime, and I did it. I worked day in and day out to not only graduate from college, but to graduate at the top of my class.”
Parker spent his junior and senior years in high school filling out more than 50 scholarship applications to finance his college education. He wanted to attend a school that would help him to lay a firm foundation for his life. His prowess as a scholar had earned him a national, academic “varsity” letter—the prestigious Gates Millennium Scholarship. His mother cried when he ripped open the letter and shared the news about the scholarship funded by a billionaire philanthropist who would cover his full tuition.
Parker applied to state schools at first, and then cast a wider net after receiving a visit from a Morehouse College recruiter.
“I knew nobody who went to Morehouse,” Parker said. “My dream school was Mizzou.”
But when he left math class early one day to speak to a Morehouse administrator about opportunities at HBCUs, he became intrigued about the idea of a college for men that groomed global leaders. “I did my own research on Morehouse and learned about its rich history and alumni, and its mission of producing outstanding African American men.”
Months later, Parker visited Morehouse to meet professors and scholars, and stand in front of Martin Luther King Jr. International Chapel. It was then that he knew he wanted to become a Morehouse Man. He chose to study political science on the campus that had produced several U.S. Congressmen, a U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security, and the first black mayor of Atlanta.
“I always had this fascination with how the world works and the system of laws,” he said. “Laws have changed the face of this nation, and lawyers have been on the frontlines of that change helping to lead the charge.”
As an incoming freshman, he had a prestigious resume. In addition to the Gates, he was a Coca-Cola Scholar, a GE-Reagan Foundation Scholar, and an Anne Frank Scholar. To keep himself on track academically, he set the bar high and surrounded himself by like-minded friends. This time, he wanted to be a valedictorian. It gave him a reason to say “no” to distractions that would take him off course.
Parker focused on excellence. He became a Presidential Ambassador, joined the Morehouse Debate Team, and then turned his attention to Moot Court, where he met Dr. Winfield Murray, a pre-law professor who had led the Moot Court Team to victory as the first HBCU team to win a national title at the American Collegiate Moot Court Association’s national championship. Murray helped Parker to hone his research and writing skills, pushing him to rewrite arguments and term papers again and again until he got it right. It helped Parker to develop a deep understanding of case law and a swagger in the courtroom.
“Professor Murray was not only a mentor, but also a great friend,” said Parker, a member of Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity. “He was the type of professor who didn’t hold back. He would give you tough love and tell you how it is. He had very high standards.”
Parker got several opportunities to test his legal knowledge in the real world. He served as an attorney general for the Morehouse College Student Government Association, interned for U.S. Congressman Emanuel Cleaver, worked at law firms, and led a campaign for a city councilman in his hometown. His candidate won.
Parker’s dedication to the law got him recognized by the Ivy Leagues. He was one of the youngest students selected, for example, to participate in the prestigious Harvard/NYU Trials Law program.
By his senior year at Morehouse, Parker was as sought after as a first-round draft pick. He had earned his 4.0 grade point average and national recognition as a finalist for both the Rhodes and Truman Scholarships, the top academic prizes for an undergraduate. Nineteen colleges accepted his law school enrollment application and offered to pay his way.
“I was accepted by Harvard, Yale, the University of Chicago, Cornell, Georgetown, Duke…,” he said, smiling broadly. He chose Harvard Law over the rest. “Harvard has been a dream of mine since for as long as I can remember.”
After Harvard Law, Parker plans to practice law and eventually return home to work on the behalf of marginalized communities. He hopes to run for an elected office someday. “I will go as far as God allows me to go in my career.”
Parker feels that as a Morehouse Man he is ready for whatever the future has in store for him. He defines a Morehouse Man as one who lives by the “Five Wells”—well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed, and well-balanced—and selflessly gives back to his community. He noted Morehouse alumni believed in him and gave back by helping him. And he intends to do the same for the men of Morehouse still at the College, pursuing their dreams.
“My Morehouse experience has been pretty amazing. It has contributed to my success and helped me as a person and put me on this path,” Parker said. “I am excited about the future. I think that in our community, we need leaders who young people can look up to as a source of inspiration and hope. I want to be one of those leaders.
|Derrick Parker Jr.|
Major: Political Science
Hometown (Country/State/City): Kansas City, Mo.
Morehouse college affiliations (Organizations/Clubs/Fraternities):
Alpha Phi Alpha Fraternity Inc. - Alpha Rho Chapter; Phi Beta Kappa: Morehouse College Moot Court Team; Morehouse College Debate Team; Presidential Ambassador; Pre-Law Society; Morehouse Student Government Association; Alpha Lambda Delta National Honor Society; Pi Sigma Alpha Political Science Honor Society; and Omicron Delta Kappa Honor Society.
Why I chose Morehouse College: I chose Morehouse College because there is no other place like it in the world! I chose Morehouse because of its rich history and deep commitment to developing black men to allow them to change the world. Four years later, I am one step closer to contributing to that cause.
Keith Matier ’18 Found Brotherhood, Black Perspectives at Morehouse
Debate Team captain gained global experience through College travel to 10 countries.
By Add Seymour
While debating some of the best young minds around the world, Keith Matier, a member of the Class of 2018, has often leaned on the education and mentorship he’s received at Morehouse College.
Actually, Matier, a philosophy major who is captain of the nationally ranked Morehouse College Debate Team, said being part of the team is one of the reasons he’s been successful at Morehouse and will join his classmates on the Century Campus May 20.
“It has allowed me to refine my thoughts,” said the Winston-Salem, N.C., native. “Debate is a space of intellectual community of inquiry. So, I can really go to debate practice and tournaments and really burnish my ideas and my perspectives on the world and have a constant feedback loop to criticize those thoughts, and structure and organize my thoughts in a more systematic way.
“The second thing is that debate has really allowed me to vivify my academic experience here at Morehouse,” Matier explained. “The third is global experience. Before coming to Morehouse, I didn’t have a passport. But because of the debate team, I went out of the country for the first time during my sophomore year when we went to Greece. Since then, I’ve been to ten countries.”
It’s a long way from Winston-Salem where Matier grew up. As a fifth-grader, he watched his mother earn her undergraduate degree from Salem College, a small, all-female institution. His father and mother had parted, but they instilled in Matier a desire to be an advocate for himself and his future.
While he was taking advanced placement courses at one of the better high schools in Winston-Salem, Matier felt like he needed something more.
His best friend, Robin McKinney ’17, was a year ahead of Matier. McKinney went to Morehouse and told Matier about the Atlanta institution that fosters the discovery of a black man’s sense of worth, no matter what kind of background they came from. (McKinney graduated from Morehouse in 2017 and now works in finance for Apple.)
“Going to a predominantly white high school—even though it was mixed—along with the education I was afforded in high school, I think I thought or viewed the world from a white person’s perspective or tried to,” Matier said. “I think Morehouse has really afforded me the opportunity to take refuge in looking at the world from an African American perspective. I think beforehand, I was plagued with the double-consciousness that W.E.B. DuBois talks about, trying to reconcile those two views.
“But I’ve become more comfortable in viewing the world from an African American perspective.”
He has thrived in the Morehouse environment. First, he points to the academic mentorship that he’s received from Levar Smith, political science assistant professor.
“He taught me my freshman, sophomore, and junior years. He’s been able to keep inventory on my academic trajectory and also what I want to do, post-Morehouse,” Matier said. “The way he has been integral to my success is he has seen things in me that I had not seen in myself. He always pushed me to put forth my best effort. So, even if I could get an A on a paper, he wouldn’t give me an A. He said, ‘You have to produce A-plus-plus quality work for you to get an A.’
“The diligence that he cultivated in me has allowed me to discipline my mind, which is one of the virtues that the College wants to imbue in all of its students.”
While debate has opened up a new world for Matier by allowing him to travel, he points to the daily discussions about where black men stand in a world where negative images of African American men permeate much of the global view of young men like Matier.
Morehouse, he says, allows young black men from all parts of the country and the world a chance to explore who they are and should be.
“Morehouse really impresses the idea on you to think with a global consciousness,” he said. “I think that’s from an academic perspective where you have to take world history classes and you’re looking at world history from an African American perspective and situating African Americans and the African diaspora in terms of world history. That imperative is consistent throughout our curriculum.
What I think that has taught me in terms of celebrating my existence is that I’ve really come to understand the diversity of the black experience,” he said.
Matier is a Mellon Mays Undergraduate Fellow who has studied and researched in South Africa. He calls that his most rewarding global experience.
“The research I do as a Mellon Fellow really looks at the comparison between the United States and South Africa and the public health crisis, and looking at that from a philosophical perspective and trying to justify principles of distributive justice,” he said. “Going there and interacting with my South African colleagues who had previously come to the U.S. and spent time with me, it was great seeing them in our space and then being in their space a few months to a year later. It was rewarding because I didn’t see things only from a theoretical perspective. I got an ‘on-the-ground’ perspective of how that works. It was very fulfilling for me.”
After graduation, Matier will be part of Teach for America, an organization that engages a diverse network of leaders who confront educational inequity through every sector, starting with two years of teaching in a low-income community. Matier will be teaching science—his first love—to 6th-through- 12th-grade students in Metro Atlanta.
“It’s rewarding because when I came to Morehouse, I started as a pre-med student,” he said. “But then I doubled down on philosophy. But getting back to my scientific routes and orientation will definitely be fun, just because of the experience I had in high school. Science was a very rewarding discipline for me.”
After that, Matier hasn’t pinned down his next move, though his interests lie in public policy, law, and academia.
“That’s one of the beauties of Morehouse,” he said. “It exposes you to a whole bunch of career opportunities and it also gives you the skills to interject yourself into other experiences that you were not aware of.”
As he leaves Morehouse, surrounded by his classmates one final time as they process into the Century Campus for Commencement, it will be the spirit of brotherhood—what that Commencement day walk epitomizes—that Matier says he will miss the most.
“What the brotherhood means to me is I have a lot of brothers who can afford me opportunities and can help me in ways that I otherwise would not have had,” he said with a smile. “The captain of the debate team my freshman year is applying to law schools right now. He got into ten of the top fourteen law schools. Just talking to him has been fruitful in my personal development. That’s just another example that demonstrates how the Morehouse brotherhood is really about just supporting one another in whatever endeavor one of us wants to achieve. We all do that emotionally, academically—I mean, just pushing each other.
“That allows you to see opportunities that you want to be exposed to through the things your brothers want to achieve, as well."
Hometown (Country/State/City): Winston Salem, North Carolina
Morehouse college affiliations (Organizations/Clubs/Fraternities): Speech and Debate Team (Outgoing Captain; 2017-2018); Presidential Ambassador; Phi Sigma Tau International Honors Society for Philosophy; Omicron Delta Kappa Leadership Honors Society; and Mellon Mays Undergraduate Research Fellow.
Name of Morehouse College program integral to my success and why: The Morehouse Speech Debate Team has allowed me to blossom into the individual that I am today. First, it provided me with an intellectual community to burnish my ideas and refine my thoughts on a variety of issues. Second, it afforded me very supportive friends that I can rely on for a variety of reasons. Third, it has cultivated a diverse range of hard and soft skills that have already proven, and will continue to prove, to be helpful to my personal success. Fourth, it has provided me a unique opportunity to travel the world and argue, debate, and converse with college students on the world’s most vexing issues. My international competitions in debate include: World Universities Debate Championships, Thessaloniki, Greece, December 2015; The Hague, Netherlands, December 2016; Mexico City, Mexico, December 2017; Oxford University Debate IV, Oxford, United Kingdom., November 2017; and Cambridge University Debate IV, Cambridge, United Kingdom. November 2017
Why I chose Morehouse College: I chose to attend Morehouse because my best friend, Robin McKinnie, convinced me that it would be a worthwhile investment. He is a 2017 graduate of the College and watching him turn down flagship schools in the Southeast to attend Morehouse when he was a senior and I was a junior in High School was ultimately compelling.
Senior Awards received: Phi Beta Kappa and Maroon Tiger Intellectual of the Year.
Plans after graduation: In the short term, I will teach middle and high school sciences in the Metro Atlanta area through the Teach For America program. The program is a two-year commitment after which I will decide what my next career steps are.
Study abroad experiences during Morehouse years: Mellon Mays January South Africa Program; Cape Town, South Africa; January 2017. Youth Ambassadors Study Tour; Paris, France; June 2017.
Jerrell Melton ’18 Found Brothers, A Second Home at Morehouse
By Peggy Shaw
When Jerrell Anthony Melton III arrived at Morehouse four years ago, he was somewhat shy, he says, and socially awkward. He graduates this week a well-rounded, self-assured, Morehouse Man.
“I have a particular self-confidence with the education I’ve been given,” says the 21-year-old music major and accomplished pianist. “I’m well-rounded now. I feel I can go anywhere and know how to manage, whatever I’m doing.”
Before enrolling at Morehouse, Melton’s world revolved around his hometown of Fayetteville, Ga. Metro Atlanta was familiar to him while growing up, and Morehouse was a household name. But Melton didn’t apply to the College until late in his senior year at Sandy Creek High School.
“I had applied to Tuskegee, Vanderbilt, Hampton... and I had taken tours everywhere I went,” he says. “But I hadn’t applied to Morehouse when somebody brought up the idea. Then, once I took the tour I felt something different: I felt I could connect with the people on campus.
“I felt like I could make a home here.”
Melton’s home while growing up was run by his working mother, Cheryl Melton, now a procurement specialist at The Coca-Cola Co. (His father, the late Jerrell Anthony Melton II, passed away when Melton was young.) A bit of a loner, Melton gravitated easily to music after his sister began piano lessons.
“In a sense, I was a child prodigy,” Melton explains. “My sister was in lessons at a young age, and when I was four or five I’d play behind her, playing whatever she did, by ear. The ear is what got me to where I am today.”
One childhood teacher, the late Archie Black—a Morehouse graduate and owner of the Archie Black Piano Academy—took an interest in Melton and guided the talented young man until Black passed away when his star student was in high school. “He was the wisest and most spiritually grounded people I knew,” Melton recalls. “So, he became a father figure for my life.”
It’s seemed fitting then for Melton to continue his education at Black’s alma mater, and connect with other men who would nurture his musical talent and help to shape the Morehouse Man that Melton would become—a man that Melton describes as, ideally, someone who is both personable and intellectual.
“I’m so thankful for professors like Dr. (David) Morrow, Dr. (Uzee) Brown, and my piano teacher Dr. (Jefferson) Ethridge,” Melton says. “All of them served as great examples of professionalism, poise, and genuine moral character.”
At Morehouse, Melton has sung with the Glee Club, the College Jazz Band, and the choir of nearby Friendship Baptist Church. He got involved in a music fraternity, the Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia Fraternity of America, serving as the group’s Morehouse music director for two years. And he also surprised himself by making some close friends—friends he believes will be steadfast for life.
“I didn’t have many male friends before college, and now I feel like they’re brothers,” Melton says. “Whatever they need, I’m there for them, and I know they’re always there for me. It’s that feeling of having somebody for life.”
Where Melton will be in five to 10 years after leaving Morehouse, however, is unclear. He’s finishing an EP that he hopes to release in June, and soon he’ll begin composing his own musical: “a production of my own musical inspiration.” He’s tempted to stay in the South because of the vibrant music scenes in both Atlanta and Nashville, but with his love of Broadway, Melton may head to New York City.
“I’d like to see myself established as a musical artist in many senses, like John Legend or Stevie Wonder who’ve gone beyond singing at the piano and into film scoring or musical theater,” he says.
Melton is considering graduate school abroad, after a gap year, and classical performance is a possibility. “After my senior recital, I had a new outlook on playing the piano and having a respectful audience to play for.”
Melton is working with Atlanta’s Southwest Arts Center this summer and definitely plans to do some substitute teaching or volunteering in a public school to give back to the community. “I’m going to teach a little but it’s not my passion,” he says. “I’m a pianist, composer, and songwriter, and I want to do my own creative projects,”
Though his future is somewhat obscure, Melton’s appreciation for the past four years at Morehouse is crystal clear. He’s grateful for the College’s resources, excellent curriculum, strong brotherhood, network of alumni, and, perhaps most of all, for faculty in the Department of Music.
“They’re stellar musicians, and they have this way of making people around them feel important and loved and cared for,” Melton explains. “Dr. Morrow talked to me about ‘doing it all,’ and he meant to be excellent in all you do. Morehouse taught me how to be excellent, and then it gave me the resources.”
For the last week, Melton has had a good view from his dorm room of the preparations for Commencement. That’s prompted him to reflect on his time at Morehouse the last four years.
“My dorm room looks over the Century Campus, and the way I feel is that it’s my time,” he says, confidently. “I’m where I’m supposed to be. I’m just in a grateful mindset.”
Academic Excellence Among African Americans Attracted William Coggins ’18 to Morehouse
By Peggy Shaw
William Howard Coggins’ family has deep roots in education. His grandparents were teachers, his father, Turner Coggins Jr. ’81, is a college professor, and his mother, Pernevlyn Coggins, worked as a school technology facilitator. But the well-spoken Morehouse graduate has selected another career path.
This summer, Coggins heads to Pittsburgh for a Google internship, and then he’ll go on to Carnegie Mellon, a global research university, known for its cutting-edge programs in science and technology. Coggins plans to earn his master’s degree there in information systems management, with a focus in business intelligence and data analytics.
The 22-year-old from La Plata, Md.—known for his achievements as well as the trademark Afro he’s been sporting since high school, in homage to favorite movies like “Black Dynamite”—has prepared well for graduate school with his comprehensive work at Morehouse as a computer science major and math minor. (He also graduates with a second minor in Asian studies.)
Coggins is a double legacy at Morehouse. His father and brother, Turner Coggins III ’11, are both Morehouse Men. But Coggins never felt pressured to attend. He came to that conclusion on his own.
“I remember going to my brother’s graduation and I saw all these academic, African American men in different fields doing what they want to do in life. Since I went to school at a place where the majority was white, it felt refreshing to see this whole different view.
“At Morehouse, I wouldn’t be the exception; I’d be the standard of other excellent men.”
Morehouse College may have been both his father’s and brother’s alma mater, but after enrolling, Coggins made the College experience his own. He joined the Debate Team and the Robotics Club, and quickly made fast friends—“men I know will be involved in my life the rest of my life.”
During his four years at Morehouse, Coggins also volunteered with Insight Initiative, a friend’s nonprofit, mentoring elementary school-aged children to teach them skills, such as anger management, that they might not learn in the classroom. And in his junior year, Coggins studied abroad in Tokyo, examining the social problems facing Japan.
“It was a blessing being able to go out there to see the different culture and appreciate it,” he said. “It provides a very clear comparative about what’s permissible there and here, like how most people don’t have cars. People bike and walk everywhere in Tokyo, or use the train system to a high degree. Virtually 90 percent of the people there use the train systems because there’s more consistency.”
Though studying Japanese society was compelling, Coggins spent much of his time at Morehouse taking classes in computer science and math. (“Math is necessary for doing anything in computer science,” Coggins explained. “It’s how you work the programming.”)
His real interest, though, is in technology. Coggins landed Google internships the last two summers and found software engineering to be interesting, but not quite what he wants to do. “I could fine tune my skills and find useful jobs, but I want to do something radically different to create a bigger impact,” he said. “That could be by working in management or taking large swaths of data and being able to create assumptions, create models.”
At Carnegie Mellon, Coggins plans to get his master’s degree in information systems management with a focus in business intelligence and data analytics. “It’s finding correlations in data so that we can have conclusive evidence of certain phenomena,” Coggins explained. “I want to place things in a social context.”
Five years from now, Coggins plans to have his master’s degree, and possibly his doctorate, in technology. “Hopefully I’ll be a CIO of some company,” he said. “We know that data access is having a more executive role in company policies. That’s something in the news now—how companies use people data, and the technicalities of using that data.
“That becomes a key conversation in the future. We’re going to be seeing more data being created as tech becomes cheaper to own and more people have it.”
No matter where Coggins is in five years, however, he knows he’ll be an “absolutely involved” Morehouse alumnus, “so the institution can grow and improve.” He also plans to keep up with favorite professors, including Debate Team Coach Kenneth Newby and Assistant Professor Sonya Dennis in the computer science department. “She was like a mother away from home, always helping me succeed in her class and other classes.”
On May 20, Coggins expects his feelings to be bittersweet. “Seeing all these individuals that I’ve known the last four years and leaving them is a very powerful thing. But Commencement is just a moment of celebration before you get down to your next stage of trying to be great,” he explained.
“It’s a lifelong mission. Ideally, you’re never going to get the Crown; if you think you have gotten it then you have 10 more steps to go. It’s like Sisyphus who rolls a boulder up the hill eternally.
“There’s always more you can achieve.”
Major: Computer Science Minor: Mathematics & Asian Studies
Hometown: La Plata, Md.
Morehouse College Affiliations: Morehouse Debate Team, NSBE (National Society of Black Engineers), Morehouse Robotics Team
Name of Professor integral to my success and why: For me, Dr. Sonya Dennis of the computer science department has been like a second mother to me. She’s so supportive of me and my endeavors. I’ve been able to come to her about anything, and she’s been an absolutely great blessing in my life.
Name of Morehouse College program integral to my success and why: The Morehouse Debate team has been a great opportunity for me. and I think it’s been an essential experience to my life. Not only have I been influenced by the faculty, like Coach Ken Newby, but the myriad of bright students that have been on the team. The skills I have learned from the team and the people I have met have been irreplaceable.
Why I chose Morehouse College: I remember going to my brother’s graduation from Morehouse and I distinctly remember a ceremony involved where there were several African drummers, introducing the graduating class. Being able to see so many people who took pride in their culture made me know I wanted to go to Morehouse College.
Are you the first in your family to graduate with a college degree: No.
Study abroad experiences during Morehouse years: Tokyo, Japan
Awards and Recognition: Induction into Beta Kappa Chi National Scientific Honor Society. Top scholar award in a data structures class. Inclusion in National Geographic magazine’s “The Race Issue,” March 2018.
Note from Will about the Afro: When I was a kid I hated getting my hair cut because my dad would cut my hair and it would always hurt. One night when we watched the movie “Undercover Brother” with Eddie Griffin and I saw his hair, I thought, ‘Now that’s a hairstyle that wouldn’t get cut!” I didn’t actually start growing it out however until my senior year of high school, around the time when I first saw “Black Dynamite,” another movie about a black superhero sporting an agro. From there it seemed to be my authentic trademark, I guess, although I do prefer being called my name as opposed to Afro.