Three lessons from alumni on service, compromise, and resilience to close out 2022
Written by Cate Miller ’25 of the Scholar Media Team
As Morehead-Cain Scholars, we are encouraged to learn how to do things independently and chart our own path. We must decide who we want to be and how to make an impact.
With a lifetime of service ahead of us, I am grateful for the generations of alumni that continually instill in us the lessons that will help us dream of and plan for a better tomorrow. I saw this intergenerational wisdom on full display at the 2022 Alumni Forum this fall, and most of all in the SEVEN Talks.
Harvey Kennedy ’74 on service: ‘Be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud’
Harvey Kennedy ’74, the second ever Black Morehead-Cain Scholar, opened the SEVEN Talks with stories from his years at Carolina. The alumnus was on the University’s nationally renowned debate team and in the student legislature as the representative for Granville Towers—at a time when less than one percent of the residents were Black.
Harvey went on to receive a J.D. from Harvard Law School in 1977. He returned to North Carolina to practice at his family’s firm, Kennedy, Kennedy, Kennedy & Kennedy, in Winston-Salem.
For the pioneering alumnus, the purpose of life is serving others. He concluded his SEVEN Talk by quoting the esteemed Maya Angelou’s advice to “be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud.”
“The thing to do, it seems to me, is to prepare yourself so you can be a rainbow in somebody else’s cloud. Somebody who may not look like you. May not call God the same name you call God—if they call God at all. I may not dance your dances or speak your language. But be a blessing to somebody.”—Maya Angelou
Kennedy’s parents were the famous poet’s attorneys, as well as her personal advisors and counselors. In today’s deeply divided country, both Kennedy’s and Angelou’s words resonated. We’re called to connect with one another with integrity and understanding, even—and perhaps especially—when we disagree.
I look forward to this spring, when scholars will be able to practice compassion in tough conversations through the “Food for Thought” speaker series on a weekly basis.
Debbie Weston Harden ’79 on compromise: ‘Don’t let the perfect be the enemy of the good’
One of the many implicit messages we receive as college students is that the way to become “great” is to focus on your career, and to always be thinking of the next bigger and better thing. While there is merit to ambition, I’ve learned that this perspective, left unchecked, can lead to entitlement and unfulfilled desire. The result is dissatisfaction and loneliness.
The necessary ingredients of true leadership are humility and sacrifice, as Debbie Weston Harden ’79 shared. Extrinsic success is rooted in the superficial, and the emotions of victory are ever so fleeting. If we are not secure in who we are today, what makes us think we will be secure in the future, no matter how much “success” we achieve?
Debbie, a practicing attorney and mother of three, said her choices have made for “a fulfilling life, not always an easy one,” emphasizing the importance of compromise.
“You must not let the perfect be the enemy of the good,” said Debbie, a member of the first class of female scholars in the Program. “You can’t be the best at every moment of every day.”
Learning from and relying on one another is a gift far greater than a promotion or award. We must be willing to let others lift us up, as we should be willing to do for others in return. Shaping our character for the betterment of those around us is a higher pursuit.
Sophie Cho ’23 on redirecting comparison to gratitude
As many scholars may be able to relate to, it’s often impossible not to compare yourself to others in a high-achieving environment. I worry I am not doing enough or that I am not enough.
It was gratifying to hear from Sophie Cho ’23, who closed out the first set of SEVEN Talks with a story about a Korean proverb. A frog trapped in the bottom of a well is content until it realizes there’s a whole world outside.
For Sophie, the Morehead-Cain Program provided her the opportunity to leave the well, as it has for many of us. And yet, having endless options can be paralyzing, especially when layered with imposter syndrome.
Sophie learned from her mother that worth is not determined by the achievements she has been chasing her whole life. Those opportunities do not define her value but can rather shed light on the gifts that would be worth exploring.
“I find that the gradual lifting of those burdens propels me to pursue the experiences, networks, and places not in fearful obligation anymore, but out of gratitude,” the senior said.
With a new year almost upon us, I have peace knowing that I will never be satisfied by just climbing the corporate ladder or by meeting as many influential people as I can.
Frank Bruni ’86 on resilience: ‘We Are Starfish’
While you’re a student, there’s the sense of countless courses, programs, and other opportunities at your fingertips. You’re here to explore and cultivate the best tools for yourself so that when you reach out into the world, you can extend your branches anywhere.
That’s also a lot of pressure.
The SEVEN Talks opened my eyes to the diversity of our alumni network and how so many have learned and grown from their mistakes. When you are at the crossroads of seemingly life-defining decisions, holding space for reflection and resilience building is an imperative I have discussed within the Morehead-Cain community this semester.
When we fail, which we’re all destined to do, we must be able to adapt. We should be able to recognize our strengths and weaknesses, since achieving perfection is impossible.
That also means we should extend the same grace to others. I can be a better leader, colleague, and friend after I’ve looked honestly at my own shortcomings, or how the shortcomings of others mirror my own.
New York Times columnist Frank Bruni ’86 has encountered numerous successful people in his career who have experienced seemingly insurmountable roadblocks. Frank encouraged us to think of ourselves as starfish, a species that can regenerate limbs or even entire bodies.
If we could view our failures as opportunities to grow back stronger, what else could we be capable of?
Building up through difference
A final throughline that emerged from the SEVEN Talks was that we should never take community for granted.
When my fellow classmates and I venture out to different places after graduation, I know that our ideas, perspectives, and shared experiences will connect us for a lifetime. Four years of college feels increasingly short, but the Forum allowed me to imagine a future of collaboration, productive conversations, and powerful change when I’m an alumna one day.
Rather than using our differences as grounds to divide, compete, and compare, I hope to exert more energy thinking of how those differences make us greater together.
What did you learn from the Forum speakers? Let us know at firstname.lastname@example.org.
About the Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team
The Morehead-Cain Scholar Media Team is an extracurricular program and internship run by the Foundation’s communications team. Scholars of all backgrounds and class years collaborate to produce multimedia content on the topics and issues they’re passionate about, as well as support Morehead-Cain’s institutional communications.
Members cover the following beats tied to Morehead-Cain’s departments: selections and recruitment, the scholar experience, development, and alumni engagement. Scholar-generated content is distributed across all of Morehead-Cain’s channels, including social media (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, and YouTube), the Catalyze podcast, email newsletters, and the website (moreheadcain.org). The team’s audience comprises more than 3,300 scholars and alumni.
Current members of the team for fall 2022 include William Dahl ’25, Laurelle Maubert ’25, Cate Miller ’25, Ria Patel ’25, Tucker Stillman ’25, Flavia Nunez Ludeiro ’26, Aayas Joshi ’26, and Elias Guedira ’26. The team is led by Content Manager Sarah O’Carroll of the Morehead-Cain Foundation.
If you’re interested in learning more about the Scholar Media Team, contact the communications team. Participation is a semester-long commitment.