Senior Oration – Darius Williams (’16)

During Spring Break, we conclude our coverage of our Senior Orations.  Today we have Pro Humanitate and the Rhetorical Importance of our Interpretation by Darius Williams (’16).

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Pro Humanitate. For Humanity.  A wondrous motto; a simple phrase.

We are privileged, as heirs of Mother So Dear, to inherit such a simple phrase.  Inherently tied with its rhetorical wonder simply because we bleed old gold and black.  We are Pro Humanitate; we are For Humanity.

I stand convinced the most important lesson Mother So Dear taught me is this one: how I interpret Pro Humanitate is more important than my association with it.  Because, as an heir of Mother So Dear, I, through my words and actions, embody Pro Humanitate.  Understand: when people interact with us Deacons, they gain a small glimpse of Wake Forest.  Thus, whether we want to or not, everywhere we go, we interpret Pro Humanitate for the world.

I love Wake Forest traditions.  Hit the Bricks.  Lovefest.  Wake n’ Shake.  But Project Pumpkin is by far my favorite.  I’ll never forget my first Project Pumpkin experience.  I remember standing behind InterVarsity’s tiny little booth, trying to hide behind massive buckets of candy.  Thinking to myself, “what the heck am I doing here?”  Tinkerbell had just violently pushed over Captain America.  And with a disturbing delight, a laughing Winnie the Pooh was chasing a crying Minnie Mouse across the quad.  To say I was “trying to find reasons to justify my escape” would be an understatement.  If I remember correctly though, the only reason I stayed behind that booth was because a beauty stood two feet away.

She loved service.  I “loved” service.  So, there I was, practicing my best pick-up lines when the Incredible Hulk tugged on my hand.  This child’s unusually deep voice still rings in my ears, “Hey, Mister!  Who you supposa be?”

He’d caught me off-guard.  I didn’t technically have on a costume.  Yes, I was wearing something—a white collar shirt and tie.  But I loved dressing up.  A mere coincidence.  The Hulk kept tugging.  I quickly scanned my surroundings.  She was watching me out of the corners of her enchanting eyes.  So, I played it cool, “Uh… I’m Barack.”

“Barack, who?”

“President Barack Obama.”

“Nah!  You ain’t even smiling like him.  And my president supposa be light-skinned!”

Let me clear: his assessment of my smile was a hundred percent correct.  My presence had no joy.  How can I serve anyone if my heart didn’t want to serve at all?

And after that first reality hit home, a second smack soon followed.  My mind awoke to the bigger picture when he re-emphasized every syllable of my president, with a sassiness that echoed the voices of my aunties.  His unfiltered words had just the right amount of conviction and concern.  In that moment, I realized my heart was in the wrong place.  And it was through this child’s unfiltered words that I acknowledged my own ignorance.  He’d expected me to unconditionally be there for him.  His words warmed my cold heart.  Before I could blink, I was having such a great time with the Hulk, tossing rings and passing out candy, that I was missing class.  Before I could think, it was time to say goodbye.

Had I never acknowledged his tug or voice, I’m sure his childlike view of Pro Humanitate would’ve been replaced with an image of my selfish indifference.  Through that child came a lesson I’d never forget.

Since that day, I’ve found myself walking on chalk.  Upon the resiliency of weary voices.  Their confrontational cries bursting with frustration towards a family that won’t hear tears.  Tired of being dehumanized by their peers.  By brothers and sisters who yik yak without an emphatic pause and listening ear.  Whose silence define a Pro Humanitate that forgets humanity.  Opting to “other” for the sake of self-comfort.  These voices have been tugging since 1834.

During the 2014 Senior Orations, Melvin Washington ended his memorable speech by declaring “Pro Humanitate means nothing… if not unconditionally applied right here at home.” His words still tug on my heart.

When our community can’t hear the violence in statements like “All Lives Matter” or “Make America Great Again”, unable to think about the humanity of our black, brown, and Muslim family; when fellow heirs reject our sister for speaking against an offensive Hip-Hop party, threatening her life instead of uplifting her courage; when those who bleed old gold and black trash the room of an openly gay brother, telling him “fags aren’t welcomed here”—our motto, For Humanity, becomes meaningless.  Replaced by hate.

As a Wake Forest family we’ve come a long way.  Every page of our history has been a beautiful display of rediscovering the wonders of Pro Humanitate.  Chronicles from R. J. Reynolds to Ed Reynolds to Suzanne Reynolds.  Never forgetting; always looking forward.  Entrusting this institution’s quintessential progression For Humanity to us.  In this very moment.

Therefore, our Pro Humanitate can’t merely look like our beloved Wake traditions; like the incredible work of the Pro Humanitate Institute; like the numerous student leaders and organizations fighting for the advancement of humanity; like President Hatch and Mrs. Hatch’s disappointed faces as they stood silent under quad trees rolled after Eric Garner’s “no indictment”.  While these are significant steps towards a better tomorrow, our Wake Forest must make Pro Humanitate personal today.

Our wondrous motto must be embodied as a community and as individuals.  Not just by some of us, but by the sum of us.  We all must walk with integrity amid our imperfections.  Exercising an unconditional Pro Humanitate.  One that becomes well-acquainted with that annoying tug on our hand, unafraid to answer the convicting question of the dejected voice, “Hey, Wake Forest!  Who are you supposed to be?”

Black, brown, yellow, red, white, and blue; conservative and liberal; straight and LGBTQ; theist, spiritual, and atheist—as heirs of Mother So Dear: We are Pro Humanitate.

For Humanity.

We must rediscover the wonders of such a simple phrase.

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