On the third Monday of January each year, the United States observes a federal holiday to mark the birthday of the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr. Inspired by his Christian faith, Martin Luther King is the nation’s most well-known civil rights leader and one of four representatives of the American people who Pope Francis named in his address to a joint session of Congress in September of 2015.

Most Americans are familiar with King’s “I Have a Dream” speech, which he delivered at the base of the Lincoln Memorial in Washington, DC in August of 1963. In a particularly memorable line, King said, “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.”

His reference to character in his most famous speech, and its importance and value, was not a new subject for King. In fact, in 1947, while he was an undergraduate student at Morehouse College in Atlanta, Georgia, the young King authored an essay titled “The Purpose of Education.” “We must remember that intelligence is not enough,” King wrote, “Intelligence plus character–that is the goal of true education.”

Today, as American higher education defends the value of “true education” against recent trends toward transactional understandings of education, King presciently wrote in that same essay, “Education which stops with efficiency may prove the greatest menace to society. The most dangerous criminal may be the man gifted with reason, but with no morals.”

Saint Mary’s renewed focus on character education and virtue formation echoes King’s vision of true education. Grounded in our Lasallian Catholic mission, Saint Mary’s students receive a rigorous intellectual formation but also opportunities to develop their character and ethical leadership. “Despite all of the challenges that we face today, even with change throughout history, and respecting our differences, character is still capable of uniting us,” said Michael Hahn, Ph.D., program director of Saint Mary’s character and virtue education program. “It remains a worthy and attainable goal of higher education.


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