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Campus reflects on MLK day

“Lift every voice and sing, ‘til earth and heaven ring, ring with the harmonies of Liberty,” chimed the audience, led by senior drama major Tsilala Graham-Haynes in Rangos Hall in the University Center last Monday afternoon.

The song, “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” considered by many to be the national anthem of African-Americans, was used to kick off the keynote address by distinguished service professor of social and decision science and public policy and management Dr. Jendayi E. Frazer that concluded the Martin Luther King, Jr. Day program.

Carnegie Mellon celebrated Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday with classes in the morning and performances and speeches about diversity and remembering King in the afternoon.

The address featured two student speakers. Senior electrical and computer engineering major Vijay Jayaram delineated King as “a man who catalyzed a movement,” “a doer,” and a “drum major for change.” Jayaram also focused on King’s views on education, particularly the concept of moral education. He cited Martin Luther King, Jr.’s famous quote first published in the Morehouse College Student Newspaper, The Maroon Tiger, in 1947: “The function of education is to teach one to think intensively and to think critically. Intelligence plus character — that is the true goal of education.”

Jayarum emphasized the importance of education to “understand the human condition before we are able to break boundaries.”

Following Jayarum, junior civil engineering major Millard McElwee spoke of his personal experience of being a “part of King’s dream.” Although he said that his experiences at Carnegie Mellon have shown that “true innovation comes from a variety of perspectives,” he also spoke of the need for there to be “more progress until [his own] narrative is the norm.” McElwee said that the best way to remember King is to persistently put the fight for equality at the top of our agendas.

The two student speakers set the tone for Frazer’s keynote, “Leading with Courage and Conviction.” In addition to her appointments in the Heinz College’s School of Public Policy and the department of social and decision sciences, Frazer is also the Director of Carnegie Mellon’s Center for International Policy and Innovation. She was sworn in as the first female U.S. ambassador to South Africa in 2004 and is widely credited for designing the Bush administration’s policies for ending the wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Sierra Leone, Liberia, and Burundi. Frazer was also instrumental in establishing many of the Bush administration’s initiatives in Africa.

Frazer’s speech called for a transformation of leadership, to return to a “purpose greater than self.” She defined courage as the “willingness to persevere, deriving from moral strength.” Frazer spoke of the process of turning faith into conviction into leadership. She drew examples from the lives of King, Nelson Mandela, and Mahatma Gandhi as leaders who led with courage and conviction, but also a willingness to compromise and change tactics when necessary.

Frazer discussed how we as citizens have moved away from the true actions against injustice, now settling for simply clicking the Change.org button instead of mobilizing a movement as King did. She referred to Harriet Tubman, who led slaves out of the South, as her personal inspiration, an epitome of action and leading with courage and conviction.

Student responses to the keynote address were overwhelmingly positive; most students found Frazer to be both intriguing and inspiring.

“I really like how she applied Dr. King’s values and beliefs to today’s society, and living life with a purpose and a vision,” said sophomore materials science and engineering and biomedical engineering double major Shreya Munjal.

“[Frazer] challenged [us] to look at the world from a different perspective,” said junior chemistry major Kevin Hunter.

“She urged us to strive toward a better future for ourselves and those around us while holding true to our own ideals.”