Bonner Scholars Sport Red Converse Sneakers At Commencement to Show Commitment to Service


Publication Date: 5/8/2008

Photography by Justin Fox Burks

At commencement, college students often customize their traditional black caps and gowns with messages and symbols that have unique personal meaning.  On May 10, all 13 graduating Bonner Scholars will be carrying on a colorful custom of sporting bright red Converse sneakers.  It’s part of a tradition started by alumna and trustee Mickey Babcock.

As the legend goes, Babcock purchased red Converse high-tops for the Bonner Scholars who graduated with her in 1998, challenging them to “Walk Loud” as part of her deep personal commitment to service, learning and leadership which grew out of her own life experiences.

“The red high tops have come to symbolize student efforts to make a difference in the world; each has taken an active role in some aspect of service in Memphis,” says associate dean of students Marie Lindquist who is one of the staff members for the program at Rhodes.  The Bonner Program is an innovative initiative to foster scholarship and community service at multiple institutions of higher educations. The Corella and Bertram F. Bonner Foundation of Princeton, N.J. started a program at Rhodes in 1992. 

Rhodes, known for its varied experiential learning programs and for the fact that more than 8 of 10 students are involved in community service,  offers up to 15 Bonner scholarships to entering students who have financial need and an exceptional commitment to serving in the community.

As part of their commitment to change-based service, Bonner Scholars often emerge as leaders on campus and in the Memphis community, especially through the Kinney Program, Rhodes Student Government and Honor Council, the Black Students Association, Habitat for Humanity, Earth Justice, local hunger programs and urban ministries, and in peace and justice initiatives.

Michael Lamb, who spent two years as a Rhodes Scholar in Oxford and has started a non-profit to help communities across Africa, recalls his experience in the program at Rhodes. “These service experiences informed my academic learning, and in turn, my academic learning informed these experiences.  In a service-learning class entitled ‘Hunger, Plenty and Justice,’ we studied the ethics of hunger, explored how policies met, or failed to meet, ethical demands, and connected social issues with personal experiences as a Meals on Wheels volunteer. 

“Learning about ethics and politics became more than my favorite intellectual exercise.  I began to see how theories of justice have practical implications for our society, for me, and for friends on the street.   In one of my most challenging academic assignments at Rhodes, I determined that we have a moral duty to aid others and that charity alone is not enough.  Serving meals, building Habitat houses, and tutoring third-graders help alleviate symptoms of poverty on an individual level, but eradicating the underlying causes of poverty requires change on a systemic level.  Justice, I realized, demands more than charity; it requires changing laws, structures, and institutions.”

Lamb is now studying political theory and ethics at Princeton.