Office of the President

January 16, 2014

Honoring Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

Office of the President

Dear Campus Colleagues,

Fifty years ago, in 1964, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his courageous and inspiring efforts in leading the civil rights movement.

The Nobel committee honored Dr. King for his commitment to nonviolence in the pursuit of equality, inclusivity, and opportunity in the United States. In particular, they noted his leadership, from the Montgomery bus boycotts in 1955 through the U.S. Congress’s landmark Civil Rights Act in 1964.

But Dr. King and the thousands who marched ahead of and along with him, and the millions who shared his vision, well knew that we still had many miles to go. Violence, discrimination, inequality, and injustice in thousands of ways remained commonplace. Today, thankfully, much has changed for the better, but in 2014 there remains still a great deal of work to do.

As a public university, we have a central role in ensuring equality, inclusivity, and opportunity. Our leadership is paramount. A pillar of the University of Washington’s pathway forward is and must always be providing access and opportunity for all who are qualified, regardless of background or circumstance. To this I am wholly and resolutely committed.  But this is not simply my commitment; this must be our collective commitment.

Dr. King’s words from his Nobel acceptance speech inspire us today:

[I]n the depths of my heart I am aware that this prize is much more than an honor to me personally. Every time I take a flight, I am always mindful of the many people who make a successful journey possible—the known pilots and the unknown ground crew. So you honor the dedicated pilots of our struggle who have sat at the controls as the freedom movement soared into orbit. You honor, once again, Chief Lutuli of South Africa, whose struggles with and for his people, are still met with the most brutal expression of man’s inhumanity to man. You honor the ground crew without whose labor and sacrifices the jet flights to freedom could never have left the earth. Most of these people will never make the headline and their names will not appear in Who’s Who. Yet when years have rolled past and when the blazing light of truth is focused on this marvelous age in which we live—men and women will know and children will be taught that we have a finer land, a better people, a more noble civilization—because these humble children of God were willing to suffer for righteousness’ sake.

As we honor Dr. King on the national holiday in his name on Monday, let us together commit anew to doing our part in creating a finer land, a better people, and a more noble civilization. This is our responsibility as members of one of the world’s great higher education communities.


Michael K. Young