Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

January 15, 2024

Dear All,

Today as we honor and celebrate the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., my mind takes me to an op-ed written by a young, 18-year-old, King, while still a student at Morehouse College in 1947. His message in the piece, “The Purpose of Education,” was that the goal of education was both utilitarian and moral. Of the two, King worried that the lack of a moral education could have devastating effects for society and democracy at large: “Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the [one] gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

King’s emphasis on the importance of moral education offers an important frame for the ideals that are embedded in a Vassar education, which teaches us to go to the source, be critical thinkers, seek differing viewpoints, and sustain dialogue. King reminds us why these are our values: because these values demand not only that we learn to discern what is true from what is false, but also that we learn to work with each other—or, as King might say, to build community and trust. Such community and trust are at the heart of a thriving learning environment even as we are challenged by profound disagreements and differences in perspectives.

For me, as an educator and the president of Vassar, Dr. King’s words serve as a precautionary reminder of the role educational institutions can play in society.  As an 18-year-old student—before his Beyond Vietnam and I Have A Dream speeches, before the march from Selma to Montgomery, and before accepting the Nobel Peace prize–King had already provided us with a 21st century north star for the purpose of our work here at Vassar.  On this day celebrating Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., let us draw inspiration from the legacy of King’s  student years and appreciate the potential of education in terms of the world it allows us to create.

Elizabeth H. Bradley, President
Vassar College
Poughkeepsie, NY 12604