There’s a confident smile worn on the face of David A. Thomas these days.

Thomas, who was installed as Morehouse College’s 12th president on Thursday, Feb. 14, on the historically black men college’s 152nd birthday, sure does have plenty to smile about.

Under Thomas’ leadership, which he assumed on Jan. 1, 2018, enrollment applications at Morehouse increased by 43 percent, two residential halls have been renovated, and the college received more than $3 million in grants to support STEM education and a high-level writing curriculum. Business community support has also increased.

Three weeks ago, Morehouse received a $4.6 million donation to establish the Eugene McGowan Jr. endowed scholarship as the college strives to become one of the nation’s top liberal arts schools.

The donation—the largest of the year—was made by the estate of the late Dr. Eugene McGowan Jr., an alumnus who graduated in 1937.

McGowan, a prominent Delaware psychologist and former Atlanta Public Schools teacher, supports Morehouse’s mission to educate men who are committed to service, leadership, and academic excellence. The donation is the second major gift issued by a philanthropist in recent months to support growth at Morehouse College, which has an enrollment of 2,175 students.

In January, Morehouse announced that Robert F. Smith, the founder, chairman and CEO of Vista Equity Partners, made a $1.5 million gift to fund endowed scholarships as well as the design and creation of a park that will give students a new outdoor study area.

On Sunday, May 19, Smith has been invited by Thomas to deliver a keynote address at the college’s 135th annual Commencement exercise, a ceremony that will present degrees to more than 300 scholars.

Thomas said that Smith, one of the most prominent and successful investors of the 21st century, was chosen to give the keynote address to the Class of 2019 for his inspirational journey as a visionary entrepreneur and scholar. The billionaire businessman will share insights from his upbringing as a child of educators and the path that led to his rise as a finance and technology giant.

Smith’s firm, Vista Equity Partners, which he founded in 2000 and built into a billion-dollar enterprise, is an international leader in software and technology investments that currently manages equity capital commitments of more than $46 billion and oversees a portfolio of more than 50 software companies employing 60,000 people worldwide.

Smith is the largest private donor to the National Museum of African-American History and Culture in Washington, D.C. and was the first and only African-American business leader to sign “The Giving Pledge,” an initiative created by Bill and Melinda Gates, and Warren Buffett in which wealthy individuals pledge to give more than half of their wealth to causes such as poverty alleviation, disaster relief, and global health and education.

In keeping with his commitment to support education, Smith donated $1.5 million to Morehouse in January to fund an endowed scholarship and the development of a new park that will give students an outdoor study area.

“As Morehouse College celebrates its 152nd year of serving students, we are honored to welcome our community partner Robert F. Smith, one of the greatest business minds of our time, back to campus to share in the ceremony that is the highlight of the year,” Thomas said. “His words of inspiration and the presence of our other honorary degree recipients will give the Class of 2019 a memorable experience that will challenge them to take the lessons that they learned as Men of Morehouse and become game-changers in their future endeavors.”

Commencement will be held at 8 a.m. on May 19 on the esteemed, historic campus green that lies in the shadow of Graves Hall, Morehouse College’s oldest building. More than 3,000 people are expected to attend the festivities.

Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degrees will be bestowed to Smith, as well as to Edmund W. Gordon, a leading psychologist and a professor emeritus at Yale and Columbia universities whose career has spanned 70 years. Gordon remains an expert in education access for minority and disadvantaged students.  

An Honorary Doctor of Arts degree will be conferred upon Bassett, a classically trained actor whose breakthrough performances in John Singleton’s “Boyz ‘N the Hood” and “What’s Love Got to Do With It” set the bar high for women in Hollywood. Bassett, a regular on Fox’s “9-1-1,” also had a starring role in “Black Panther,” a ground-breaking film and billion-dollar box office success that made history as the highest-grossing comic book feature ever in North America.

Additional, Thomas said he is developing what he estimates to become an aggressive $30 million capital campaign that will help Morehouse in its efforts to become one of the top liberal arts colleges in the country.

The funds have been planned to be used to renovate buildings and create the campus of the future, improve the infrastructure, expand the digital network, support student scholarships, and launch academic initiatives that align with the mission of Morehouse.

Thomas has instructed the college’s Office of Institutional Advancement to develop a giving strategy to attract additional major donations from Morehouse supporters, including individual, nonprofit, and corporate donors.

The giving strategy will lay the framework for the launch of a successful capital campaign to address the priorities of the Office of the President, which include: creating the campus of the future, funding student scholarships and faculty research, improving campus facilities and infrastructure, and offering transformative educational opportunities for students.

“Here at Morehouse, what we’re doing is elevating ourselves to continue our role as leaders among the nation’s college and universities producing men who lead lives of leadership and service with disciplined minds,” Thomas said. “This is requiring us to become more global in our approach to education and increase our work in core fields and core subjects that we thing Morehouse has a distinctive advantage.

“Our work developing individuals in the STEM areas, where we are the largest producer of Black men who go on to earn Ph.D.’s in science,” he added. “We are also working to increase our pipeline of men, especially Black men, who go into medicine as well as continuing our efforts to developing men who go into Ph.D. and professional programs.”

Further, on April 13, the Morehouse campus community made progressive strides when its College Board of Trustees approved a Gender Identity Policy that will allow individuals who self-identify as men, regardless of the sex assigned to them at birth, to be considered for admission.

“In a rapidly changing world that includes a better understanding of gender identity, we’re proud to expand our admissions policy to consider trans men who want to be part of an institution that has produced some of the greatest leaders in social justice, politics, business, and the arts for more than 150 years,” said Terrance Dixon, Vice President for Enrollment Management at Morehouse. “The ratification of this policy affirms the College’s commitment to developing men with disciplined minds who will lead lives of leadership and service.”

The Gender Identity Admissions and Matriculation Policy applies to all students who enroll in Morehouse College by the Fall 2020 semester. All students who are enrolled before the Fall 2020 semester are not impacted by this policy.

The new policy was developed after 15 months of community engagement with faculty, staff, students, and alumni led by a task force created by Thomas. The committee will now begin to assess campus needs to create diversity and inclusion programs, training, and facilities that will support the new policy.

According to Thomas, all of these measures and more—including making inroads with a number of corporations in Silicon Valley—will help usher in a future for the college that will not only keep it competitive among its HBCU counterparts, but also among the best of America’s colleges and universities.

David Thomas, the 12th president of Morehouse College, said he is confident about the future of the nation's only HBCU for men. (Trarell Torrence / The Atlanta Voice)

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