One of Donovan Polk’s favorite things about Morehouse is the brotherhood—that uncommon bond among students and alumni at the College.
When he was a senior in high school, in Durham, North Carolina, Polk visited his older brother one weekend on the Morehouse campus. He knew immediately that he wanted to follow in his brother’s footsteps to Atlanta.
“It was not just the brotherhood but also the experiences that resulted from that brotherhood,” said Polk, who played on the Morehouse House of Funk Marching Band's drumline and graduated from Morehouse with a B.A. in music, summa cum laude. “My favorite experiences have come out of the marching band because I spent so much time there.”
On Dec. 13, Polk will graduate with the Class of 2020 in the online Commencement, which will be featured on YouTube. Polk is currently pursuing a Master of Music degree in Wind Conducting (which encompasses all band instruments) and obtaining teaching licensure at the University of New Mexico, where he holds a graduate assistantship.
Eventually, Polk plans to teach at the college level. He says his music classes and band experience at Morehouse inspired him to pursue a career in music education and performance.
Band members during Polk’s four years at Morehouse had opportunities to perform at Mercedes-Benz corporate events, the Coca-Cola headquarters, and at an Atlanta Hawks half-time performances. Some even played in a Super Bowl commercial.
“That’s due to some excellent marketing by Dr. Chad Hughes (director of bands),” Polk noted. “He knows how to find opportunities and seize them.”
The 23-year-old says he will have the same drive when he is future music director.
“There’s a culture of excellence at Morehouse—all Morehouse Men take their education quite seriously,” he said. “And professors talk about self-drive. They push that. Although you’re there to learn, you have to want to learn and to succeed.”
Polk graduated from the College with accolades, receiving Institutional Honors through the Howard Thurman Honor Society, Departmental Honors in the Academic Division of Music, as well as membership in the Pi Kappa Lambda Music Honor Society and Phi Beta Kappa Society.
During his junior year, Polk was also inducted into the prestigious Phi Mu Alpha Sinfonia fraternity, which requires “a certain rigor,” he said, including high academic standards. He was the recipient of three scholarships at Morehouse and graduated with a 3.81 GPA.
“It was done with a lot of hope and some hard work—studying and being smart about my life,” he said simply.
In addition to being a percussionist in the Morehouse marching band (bass and snare drums) for four years, Polk also played guitar in the jazz band and the African High Life band. He was a band liaison for the Morehouse Affinity Group, a workshop leader at the 2019 Society of Music Theory Conference in Columbus, Ohio, and student conductor of the Morehouse College Concert Band in Spring 2019, conducting at three concerts.
And during his four years at Morehouse, Polk also found outside work in Atlanta’s burgeoning entertainment industry, performing in TV commercials and two music videos. “Atlanta has become a start-up area in tech, banking and finance—and it’s huge for the entertainment industry,” he explained. “It’s so great that with every single major you take, there’s an opportunity around the corner that you can at least seek.
“That’s another thing that makes Morehouse so special.”
During Polk's four years at Morehouse, he also continued a program back in Durham that he started eight years ago for young students, teaching not music but computer programming. “I still teach a camp with the fundamentals of programming to kids every summer, ages 4 to 16 or 17,” he said. “They use an online platform called Scratch that uses blocks almost like Legos.”
For this coming summer, the main camp instructor passed the baton on to Polk, so he’s decided to keep teaching the classes online. “I enjoy teaching kids.”
In graduate school, Polk enjoys conducting class. “We’re assigned a piece to look at and we study that piece in depth,” Polk said. “Then, in class we talk about that piece and possible rehearsal problems. And we do a mock conducting of it to get the physical experience.
“And even though my master’s is in wind conducting with bands (any instrument blown into is a wind instrument), I have to be able to sing, to signal the players," he said. "It’s easier in rehearsal instead of describing what you want from a musician to sing the part correctly with the expression you want."
Polk says he could even see himself returning to his beloved Morehouse one day after he earns his doctorate and has worked in the field. “Years from now if the director ever moves on, I’d love to take up that responsibility.”
Atlanta has become a start-up area in tech, banking and finance—and it’s huge for the entertainment industry. It’s so great that with every single major you take, there’s an opportunity around the corner that you can at least seek. That’s another thing that makes Morehouse so special.Donovan Polk, Class of 2020