Huiet V. Joseph IV spent much of his formative years standing out academically as an exception to the norm in his predominantly white suburban Atlanta private high school. He towered over many of his peers by stature as an offensive lineman on the Blessed Trinity Catholic High School team, and by class rank as an A-student. He was that smart Black guy. And he embraced his role.
But when Joseph began considering college, he wanted a fresh start and an identity that he had created for himself. So, his parents took him to visit Open House at Morehouse College.
Morehouse wasn’t exactly on Joseph’s short list, even though his dad, Huiet Joseph III, director of Environmental Sustainability at Cox Enterprises, had graduated from Dillard University, an HBCU in New Orleans. “I really didn’t understand what an HBCU was,” the Morehouse Man from Alpharetta, Georgia admits.
But at Open House, the young Huiet Joseph heard a speech that hit home. “A student came to the microphone that day and said, ‘In high school, everywhere I went, I was always known as the smart Black kid. But when I went to Morehouse, it was the first time that I became Hakim.’”
On Dec. 13, Joseph will formally graduate from Morehouse, after earning a 3.99 GPA and a chemistry degree. He will participate in the online Commencement as salutatorian of the Class of 2020 with his new circle of friends who know him by his name, his sense of humor—and his many accomplishments.
True to his ambitious spirit, Joseph is already in the midst of his next phase of life. This fall, he began his first year of studies at the prestigious University of Pennsylvania Perelman School of Medicine. He is the second consecutive high-ranking Morehouse Man to enroll in the school. Joseph joined one of last year’s valedictorians, Jarvis Mays, at Penn medical school, along with a host of his other Morehouse brothers.
Joseph believes that Morehouse prepared him well for the journey ahead.
Four years ago, Joseph said he came to Morehouse as a shy and awkward freshman. Eventually, as he embraced Morehouse’s mission and teachings, he found his swagger. He became more confident, assertive, socially conscious, service-minded, and knowledgeable about the history of Black men in the world. He learned that being excellent in his field would open doors for him.
“Morehouse is the best place for young Black men in the world,” he says. “At first, it can be a culture shock, though … but in a good way. There are so many smart brothers there, and I was used to always being the smartest in the room. But then, it got to the point where I was able to recognize the genius in other people. I learned that we could all be successful together.”
Joseph made fast friends—impressive men of agency and intellect. Many had also been among the stars of their high schools. One was a Gates Millennium Scholar.
But what motivated Joseph the most was the immediate respect he received from his professors. They talked to him like an adult. They took time to learn his name, and understand his hopes, fears, and dreams.
“The thing that surprised me the most was how many people believed in me when they first met me,” he said. “They expected me to succeed.”
Even strangers gave him instant respect, Joseph adds. “When you walk around town wearing a Morehouse hoodie, people stop you. They say, ‘You go to Morehouse; you must be smart.’”
And Joseph didn’t want to disappoint. After all, he had blazed a path in high school as an A-student. But with his major, college wouldn’t be easy. Joseph had to take a load of tough biology and chemistry classes and labs, and learn concepts he would see again on the MCAT.
“As much as my parents said all that they wanted was for me to do my best, I put pressure on myself to maintain what I had done before,” Joseph explained. “But when I focus only on school and have tunnel vision, I tend to do worse. I needed an extracurricular to round me out.”
Joseph found an escape through music. He had played in the concert band in high school and figured joining the House of Funk Morehouse College Marching Band wouldn’t be too much of a stretch—until he discovered that he had to carry a tuba on his back and march a couple of miles around the school in the sweltering sun while memorizing music. “It was trial by fire,” he says.
Soon, Joseph welcomed the distraction. “I had two or three hours that I didn’t have to worry about school. I could have fun, play music, and reset.”
The routine of band practice made Joseph more “intentional” about his study time. He planned daily study hours in increments with a rest break that included playing a video game or napping. “When I sat down to study, I was focused and was retaining the information better than if I had been up studying for six hours and not comprehending anything at hour three.”
The more extracurriculars that he picked up, the more A’s he saw on his report card: Joseph became president of the Chemistry Club and a biology tutor for a year, then a tuba section leader and chemistry tutor for three years, and, next, treasurer of the Health Careers Society. On top of that, he traveled to Ghana, Africa with a cultural exchange program for 10 days.
By junior year, Joseph had been nominated to Phi Beta Kappa Honor Society. He accepted. He was also inducted into Alpha Epsilon Delta Pre-med Honors Society before he completed his degree.
And when school became overwhelming or he needed help preparing for a big exam, Joseph knew where to find support. He had mentors and a community of intellectuals rooting for him.
“(Chemistry professor) Dr. Lance Shipman Young is phenomenal,” Joseph said. “From the moment that he met me, I felt that he had more faith in me than I had in myself.” And Dr. David B. Cooke III became more like extended family than a professor. “Although he was my physics teacher, he was more of a grandfather type. Just sitting there talking to him about life, not necessarily about class, was more important than most of the things that I learned in a lecture hall.”
Joseph ended his senior year as the highest-ranking chemistry major. “There were a lot of twists and turns on the path,” he said. “I am glad that I had such a good support system behind me in both of my parents and a good group of friends.
“I started Morehouse as an only child, now I have hundreds of brothers.”
Morehouse is the best place for young Black men in the world,” he says. “At first, it can be a culture shock, though … but in a good way. There are so many smart brothers there, and I was used to always being the smartest in the room. But then, it got to the point where I was able to recognize the genius in other people. I learned that we could all be successful together.Huiet Van Joseph IV, Salutatorian, Class of 2020