So there’s this young man named Joshua Packwood, and he’s pretty special. He has a 4.0 GPA and is this year’s valedictorian at Morehouse College. And Morehouse College is pretty special. It’s the only all-male, historically black institution of higher learning in the nation and has notable alums like Spike Lee, Martin Luther King Jr. and Howard Thurman — who, incidentally, was valedictorian in 1923.
The thing about Packwood that is particularly sensational, apparently, is that he’s white. Kansas City, Mo., Tom Cruise-like white. And he went to Morehouse. And he is smart. And he is the valedictorian, the first white valedictorian in the 141-year history of the school. And this is amazing, or at least this is the intimation.
Understandably, there is attention given to Packwood because he is a white dude at Morehouse. This is not the norm, but it’s not exactly abnormal either. Way back when I stomped Adidas through the hallowed halls of Morehouse College, there were white guys there. One — I think his name was Mike — was a football player from Chicago's South Side. There was media hype with him too.
It's interesting to be white and a graduate of a Historically Black College or University, but it seems a bit condescending, all of the press sweating Packwood. Congratulations to the young man, he's a good guy and can obviously handle his academics. Nonetheless, the astonishment seems, well, insulting. Understood, Josh has good grades, is white, is well meaning and is taking a gig in corporate America with Goldman Sachs. Cool, sounds like an American Dream.
But to play up the drama of being a young white man at a college with a bunch of young black men is extra. The story peg polarizes and suggests that Josh was in some way slumming it at Morehouse. Obviously this is not the case. If proof is needed and the metric of Nima Warfield, Eddie Glaude Jr., Shaka Rasheed, Kristopher Chrishon, Shakir Stewart and Otis Moss III don't convince, check in again with Goldman Sachs. They may very well reference Steven Schukei. Now a vice president of technology for the global investment banking and securities firm, Schukei was a 1998 Wonder Bread wunderkind at Morehouse as the first white vice-president of the College's Student Government Association.
No doubt white men can achieve. And so can black men. See the previous 140 valedictorians of Morehouse College for starters.
David Wall Rice is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Psychology at Morehouse College in Atlanta. His work focuses on personal identity and how it is shaped by external and internal forces.
Editor's note: The list of notable Morehouse alumni was updated.