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Cord McLean ′09

Hometown: Chapel Hill, TN
Major: Anthropology/Sociology
Awesome fact: Cord has been so impacted by his leaders at Rhodes that he plans to attend graduate school to study for a position in the student affairs field.

You have had many involvements at Rhodes. Which has had the greatest impact on you?
Everything has had an impact, but if I have to choose one it’s being a Bonner Scholar. That is an experience that started prior to Orientation my first year and has influenced just about everything else I’ve done. I’ll be proud to wear the red shoes at graduation next year!

What do you mean, it started before Orientation?
The first-year Bonners come to campus early so we can get to know each other and begin the program before the rest of the class arrives. It gives us a chance to bond, and my class certainly did. We are a touchy feely group. We love each other and what we do. We share the bond of caring.

You are required to devote 10 hours a week and two summers to community service and leadership training, is that right?
Right. The leadership training is phenomenal. We also learn to integrate the service into other aspects of our lives, such as academics.

Can you give me an example?
This summer I will spend six weeks in Cape Town, South Africa taking a course in my major; the course is on issues of power, poverty, and community development strategies in the context of post-Apartheid South Africa. In the afternoons I will be tutoring families in a nearby township. So I will be doing service that will allow me to see firsthand some of the issues I’ll be studying in the classroom while at the same time completing my second summer of service.

What kind of service did you do in Memphis?
I have been very involved in the Midtown North neighborhood. You hear a lot about the education gap, and there are unfortunately several examples of it in our neighboring schools. Through a program called I AM (It’s About Me) started by Rhodes students, I have had the opportunity to demonstrate to young African American males in the neighborhood that someone who looks like them can succeed in life.

Are you like them?
In some ways but certainly not all. I come from a small, predominantly white town where I got outstanding support from my family and the community. I was the first black valedictorian at my high school, which was huge. I still get care packages from people who aren’t in my family.

 

So if your experiences are so different from those of the young men you mentor how can you help them?

I can listen, emphathize, be there for them, earn their trust. I can ask questions that help them discover answers. Watching their problem solving is an inspiration to me. I learn from them and grow from their experiences.

What else are you proud of at Rhodes?
My work with the Black Student Association. This past year we worked incredibly hard to promote inclusiveness— welcoming non-black students into the BSA and, vice versa, encouraging our members to infiltrate other organizations on-campus. I took the theme of my year from Professor Luther Ivory who says, “There’s a big difference between black presence and black input.” We want to be not only seen but also involved at Rhodes, and we most certainly are. There are black students in leadership positions all over campus.

What’s been your biggest challenge?
The last student who came to Rhodes from my home town won a Rhodes Scholarship and was an outstanding leader on campus. When I would tell people where I was from, they would say, “Do you know Michael Lamb?” After a while I began to think, “Is this what I’m going to be up against for four years?” But I feel I’ve definitely come into my own now.

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