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Commencement 2013: Keeping Our Focus

Dear Morehouse Community:

From the start of my presidency, I have emphasized the need to increase our institution’s “signal-to-noise ratio.” By that, I simply mean that we must increasingly focus our attention on important matters to the exclusion of distractions.

A few months ago, I was honored to receive a call from the White House that resulted in President Barack Obama becoming our Commencement speaker this year. As we move toward what will inarguably be one the most important weekends in the history of the College, I have announced to, and beyond the campus community that we have one focus and one focus only. Simply stated, our focus is to celebrate with these graduates and their families, and to enjoy the historic visit by the President of the United States. That is truly our signal!

That being said, I pause to write to you now regarding a related matter that is germane to our educational mission, but one that has regretfully generated quite a bit of distraction in recent days. In brief, I extended an invitation to a distinguished alumnus to speak at our upcoming Baccalaureate service. I subsequently made a decision to adjust the format of the Baccalaureate program and opted for a more creative, multi-speaker approach that is used by many leading institutions.  This sharing of the stage comports with the spirit of upholding democratic ideals, including freedom of speech and expression, and is entirely consistent with the spirit of camaraderie that Morehouse holds dear.

As president, I believe this is in the best interest of the college. In this instance, I decided to ask this invited speaker to share the Baccalaureate stage with two other speakers so as to reflect a broader and more inclusive range of viewpoints.

To my chagrin, my decision has been wrongly construed by some as an effort to “disinvite” this individual. He was not disinvited, but rather declined to participate in the format. Worse yet, this decision has led to allegations of censorship, which of course has no place in any viable academic institution. These allegations are fundamentally deleterious and are undeserved.

In brief, this matter is not and has never been about censorship. Nor has it anything to do with stifling or limiting “prophetic voices,” disturbing the “King legacy,” or deviating from any of the proud traditions of the College.

And as we move on, I invite everyone to focus with us on our singular signal – these graduates of the Class of 2013, their families, and the historic visit by the President of the United States. Period.

Let us also look forward to a future that features a Morehouse College with the highest signal-to-noise ratio in the history of American higher education!

-John Silvanus Wilson Jr. ’79,

11th President, Morehouse College