For the first time in its 141-year history, Joshua Packwood, a 22-year old white student, became the first Caucasian valedictorian to graduate from Morehouse University, the historically black, all male college last weekend.
Packwood, who maintained a 4.0 grade point average throughout his four years at the school, turned down a a full scholarship to Columbia University to attend Morehouse, home to such esteemed graduates as Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Packwood said the decision was a “no-brainer.”
“A large majority of my friends, like all my girlfriends have been minorities,” said Packwood. “So it was very, it was kind of strange that I always kind of gravitated to the black community.”
And the students at Morehouse seemed to gravitate towards Packwood: He was elected dorm president and to the class council during his freshman year. He was also a fashion favorite whenever he strolled down the runway in campus fashion shows.
Packwood’s upbringing was rough. His mother married a black man and family tension forced him to move in with his best friend’s family, who were black and middle class.
Packwood said that the experience of living with a black family showed him a “different side of black America.”
“I gained this interest in African American studies and I thought that Morehouse would probably be the best experience,” Packwood told CNN. “I think of it in terms of ‘study abroad.’ If I really want to learn it, if I really want to understand it — maybe it’s best if I immerse myself in the culture.”
Packwood said that his experience with his Morehouse brethren has been positive, despite the fact that he had to endure a few comments from disgruntled fellow students.
“One guy came up to me and told me he didn’t like the fact that I was here,” recalls Packwood. “He absolutely didn’t like the fact that I dated black women. So I heard him out, and said, ‘I appreciate your opinion but don’t agree with what you have to say.’…and now we’ve become, not necessarily close, but very cool,” Packwood says.
When word got out that he might become the next valedictorian among a sea of 500 graduates, some students were perplexed.
“They approached me and said, ‘Yeah, I have a problem with you being valedictorian. I know you’ve earned it and even though I know you on a personal level-I like you a lot-but it disturbs me that out of roughly 3,000 black men-there’s not one that’s done as well as or better than you academically,” said Packwood.
Upon hearing that a white student would become valedictorian, Muhammad, a junior at Morehouse, observed, “I think that it should be a wake-up call to an all black campus. At Morehouse we’re supposed to be at the top as black men. We only have a few white students and to see a white student rise to this–is something unsettling to me because it shows that we need to work harder.”
Sterling Hudson, the dean of admissions, said, “I think some of our alumni are a little nervous about a white student graduating from Morehouse with all of its rich history for producing African-American male leaders. But I don’t think it’s contradictory at all,” he said.
“What Morehouse stands for at the end of the day, and what Dr. King epitomized, it’s not about black or white, it’s about the content of (a person’s) character,” Packwood reflected. “It’s about me, representing Morehouse in that light–not as a white man or a black man.”
This week, Packwood started his first job with the prestigious investment banking firm Goldman Sachs on Wall Street.
And Packwood’s positive experience at Morehouse has rubbed off on his younger brother. He will be following in his older brother’s footsteps when he enrolls as a freshman at the college next year.