Address by Robert M. Franklin Jr.

Unedited transcript, subject to change and correction, of Commencement 2009 remarks by the Rev. Robert M. Franklin Jr., who received the honorary degree Doctor of Humane Letters.

President Hansen, Trustees, Professor Bruce (I’d much rather have heard you go on for another four minutes!), “Dr.” Davis [laughter and applause; see first paragraph of Davis address], fellow distinguished honorands, and the amazing Class of 2009.

On behalf of Morehouse College, its 2,800 students and 15,000 living alumni spread across the globe, we thank Bates College for this honor today that I count as a collective honor. Morehouse College thanks Bates College for our greatest president, Bates alumnus Benjamin Elijah Mays. When Dr. Mays arrived at Morehouse, he attracted to himself students like Martin Luther King Jr., Julian Bond, Maynard Jackson, Surgeon General David Satcher, Olympic gold medalist Edwin Moses, and many others. But today, Morehouse stands alongside Bates to say thank you for your long tradition of social justice, of progressive social vision for the world, and your commitment to liberal arts education.

My word for you today is simply three: Become, Beware, Be.

Become Renaissance women and Renaissance men. In a time when there’s increasingly national anxiety about national defense, national prosperity and national competitiveness — to be sure all three are important — it is exceedingly important that American democracy have citizens and leaders in every walk of life who are broadly educated. So our charge is to carry with you the mission and the tradition of broad learning. Become women and men who are well-read, well-spoken, well-traveled, well-dressed and well-balanced. Become Renaissance women and Renaissance men with social conscience and global perspective. Every one of you, as leaders of our society, must be familiar with finance, physics, and philosophy.

Second: beware. This word from Mahatma Gandhi. Beware of the seven deadly sins of modern life. Politics without principle. Wealth without work. Commerce without morality. Science without humanity. Education without culture and character. Pleasure without conscience. And worship without sacrifice.

Finally, the word from Martin Luther King Jr.: Be transformed nonconformists. In one of his famous speeches, Dr. King said, “This hour in history needs a dedicated circle of transformed nonconformists. The saving of our world will come not from the actions of a conforming majority but from the creative maladjustment” — isn’t that a great phrase? — “of a transformed minority.” Become Renaissance men and women. Beware the deadly sins of modern life, and be transformed nonconformists.

Carry with you the words of Rabbi Hillel: “The world is equally balanced between good and evil. Your next act will tip the scale.” Thank you.