I had a weekend with the most remarkable people. It was the 8th triennial Morehead-Cain Forum, bringing together over 700 Morehead-Cain Scholars from across the nation and around the world. Originally funded by John Motley Morehead III of Union Carbide fame, the Morehead-Cain Foundation exists to bring great students to UNC Chapel Hill and pay all their expenses, launching them into summer adventures and building them up during the academic year as the people they're capable of being.
No one in my family before me had ever been to college. We had farmers, truck drivers, and mechanics in the family. I grew up in an 800 square foot rented house on a street that had ditches rather than sidewalks. It seemed that most everyone on the street worked for one of the two tobacco companies in town, Liggett and Meyers or The American Tobacco Company. The dads came home in their khaki uniforms at the end of the day, weary of work and ready to rest. Durham High School nominated me for what at the time was called simply The Morehead Scholarship, now The Morehead-Cain, and I went through a local interview, a regional, and a final interview with prominent people in business, government, the military, and academia asking me hard questions about myself, my plans, and my world. My mother told me there was no money for college. The scholarship paid for everything, absolutely every expense I had, and being a Morehead got me a free six years of graduate school and a double Ph.D. at Yale, which led to a teaching career at Notre Dame and an unexpected adventure after that as a public philosopher, worldwide. Not bad for a poor kid who had been facing extremely limited prospects, and due to the trust put in me by the great people of the Morehead-Cain.
Every three years, we Morehead-Cains have an amazing weekend together full of talks and panel discussions, impromptu conversations that are utterly mind-blowing, and incredible meals. Last year, we ate dinner on center court of the Dean Dome and one of our group who founded Ancestry.com spoke, right before another of our cohort, a wonderful Broadway performer, sang. This year for our Saturday night dinner, we completely took over the UNC Football Stadium, ate in the Blue Zone where all the donors and celebrities and top leaders watch games through the huge glass walls, and then we went out into the stadium under a clear Carolina Sky in the crisp of the evening to hear another of our Morehead-Cain cousins, as we now fondly refer to each other, NC Governor Roy Cooper, speak about public service, right before a band of more cousins performed. Coop, as expected, was funny, energetic, and inspiring.
The 2018 weekend as always was full of wonder. I got to hang out with people who have made major contributions to almost every facet of modern life, across industries and nations. One old friend is about to revolutionize safety margins in medicine. Another cousin as a young woman had ridden a bicycle across Asia and some of the middle east, over closed borders and through forbidden wastelands and she lived to tell the tale. The cuz next to me at dinner told me about his 3,300 jumps out of airplanes and his subsequent heart attack. I would have had 3,300 heart attacks. Entering the men's room, a young man came up to me to say, "I read everything you write on Twitter and really love it!" I asked his name and occupation. Global Research and Optimization for Twitter. Well, then. A wonderful couple called me over to their table at another meal, and then another later in the weekend. He's the Chief Product Officer for GoDaddy, the people who host my websites, and most of the world's websites. I met a young cousin who is bringing baseball to Egypt for the first time. He showed me a picture of kids swinging bats in front of the Pyramids. I met a man whose house was built in the 13th century, but whose barn goes back much farther in time. I walked across campus and talked and laughed for half an hour with one of the most creative television directors in England, who tried to film his new comedy about Brits moving to Florida in my own town of Wilmington NC, but it was too expensive for their production budget. It turned out that it was cheaper to recreate Florida in Southern Spain. I talked to the Editor of Outside Magazine about her history of selling stories to Netflix and other movie and TV companies. I had a whirlwind conversation with a UNC senior who says she wants to solve global warming. And I think she might be able to.
And then, as in all the other Forum Weekends I've attended over the past twenty-some years, I got to give the closing talk for this magical weekend, to all those astounding people, which itself was an out of this world experience. And afterwards, on the drive home, in the words of the narrator in Willa Cather's novel, My Antonia, "I was left alone with this new feeling of lightness and content."
The young man, Jim Burden, goes on to say:
"I was entirely happy. Perhaps we feel like that when we die and become a part of something entire, whether it is sun and air, or goodness and knowledge. At any rate, that is happiness; to be dissolved into something complete and great. When it comes to one, it comes as naturally as sleep." (pages 19 and 20).
Amen. And it's a bonus to be a part of something entire that partakes of sun and air and goodness and knowledge while we're here. May more of us find communities of the like minded who can help us flourish, be our best, do our best, and experience that elusive state of dissolving and yet also empowering soul flourishing we often call happiness.
For more Willa Cather: https://amzn.to/2CWjcuo