ATLANTA—Golden Daka of Clinton, Maryland, is preparing some inspirational words to share with his Morehouse College brothers in the Class of 2020. As valedictorian of the first class in Morehouse history to evacuate campus amid a global pandemic, Daka wants his speech to speak to their shared experience at the College that educated them with high expectations and prepared them to thrive in the face of obstacles that would cause others to falter.
The psychology major was named valedictorian of the Class of 2020 in June after maintaining a perfect 4.0 GPA since he arrived at Morehouse with a one-way bus ticket, a suitcase, and no way to pay for his full tuition. Determined to graduate as a Morehouse Man, the transfer student with Zambian roots talked his way into a UNCF (United Negro College Fund) scholarship during New Student Orientation in 2017. The financial aid helped to cover a large portion of his studies.
“When I graduated from high school, I had a 2.9 GPA and wasn’t that great of a student,” Daka said. “But when Morehouse decided to invest in me, I didn’t want anyone to regret it. I felt like I was a reflection of the immigrant community and people who didn’t have very much. I became very motivated and focused because I was going to school for my grandmother, my family, and for those at the College who believed in me.
“I didn’t want them to say that Golden came to Morehouse and stunk it all up,” Daka said. “I wanted them to be more apt to help people like me and be able to say, ‘We found a scholarship for Golden, and he came in here and killed it.’”
Daka will soon begin the one-year James H. Dunn Fellowship governmental honors program, which will enable him to work with the Illinois governor for a year before starting law school.
In December, Daka will join fellow members of the senior class for Morehouse College’s 136th annual Commencement. The ceremony has been scheduled for 10 a.m. on Dec. 13, a date that was chosen by students and administrators to reduce the community’s exposure to COVID-19. The decision to move Commencement from May to December was made in partnership with leaders from the Class of 2020, the Student Government Association, and the Office of the President.
A Commencement speaker has not been announced.
Administrators are still finalizing the location for the event, which is traditionally held at Century Campus in the shadow of Morehouse’s oldest building, Graves Hall. If cold weather is a factor in December, Commencement could be held indoors in a manner that provides for social distancing. Morehouse also mandates that face masks must be worn while on campus.
More than 5,000 people typically attend Commencement events and ceremonies each spring.
During Morehouse’s 136th Commencement, Georgia native Huiet V. Joseph IV will receive a plaque to honor his achievement as salutatorian of the Class of 2020. Joseph, a chemistry major from Alpharetta, Georgia, earned a 3.99 GPA following the completion of his academic program in June.
The Morehouse scholar plans to pursue a career as a surgeon and has been accepted to the University of Pennsylvania’s Perelman School of Medicine. Joseph is the second, consecutive top-ranking Morehouse scholar to attend medical school at the prestigious university. He will join one of last year’s valedictorians, Jarvis Mays, at the Ivy League school.
“I want to own my own practice and go into orthopedic surgery,” Joseph said. Maintaining straight A’s at Morehouse was a test of mettle for Joseph who survived tough professors, demanding workloads, labs, and project schedules, as well as the challenges of online learning during a global pandemic. Joseph said he was focused on academic excellence.
“There were a lot of twists and turns on the path. I am glad that I had such a good support system behind me in both of my parents and a good group of friends,” Joseph said. “If you can survive a huge transition in your type of learning, you can survive anything.
“It’s another way to prepare you for the world.”