Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III Delivers 2024 Phillips Integrity in Action Lecture

The Integrity in Action lecture and award were created collaboratively by former Headmaster Rob Hershey, John Burress ’54, John Walker ’79, and Ed Walker ’85 to recognize and honor former EHS faculty member Allen Carleton Phillips Jr., whose life epitomizes the highest ideals of honor and integrity, which are at the core of Episcopal High School’s values.

Before Dr. Freeman A. Hrabowski III took the stage to present the 2024 Phillips Integrity in Action Lecture, he asked incoming Head of the Honor Committee Luca McGhee-Chavez ’25 for some advice. “Just keep them engaged,” McGhee-Chavez recommended — not always an easy feat in an auditorium full of high schoolers.

A lifelong educator who served as the president of University of Maryland, Baltimore County (UMBC) for 30 years, Hrabowski is certainly no stranger to keeping young minds engaged. He took McGhee-Chavez’s advice and ran with it, delivering an impassioned speech that covered his childhood amid the Civil Rights Movement and ultimately asked the students to reflect on one important question: “Who do you want to be?”

Growing up in Birmingham, Ala., Hrabowski was called to join the protests of 1963 by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. As the Civil Rights movement grew, Dr. King called on young people to be part of the movement, teaching them that their voices mattered and should be heard. “What you do on this day will have an impact on kids who have not been born,” King told Hrabowski and his peers as they contemplated their role in the movement. Hrabowski learned an important lesson that day, one that continues to define his life and work: “Tomorrow can be better than today but only if I decide to help it to be.”

The youth of Birmingham were firehosed, attacked by dogs, and jailed but they did not relent, Hrabowski told the crowd. He recounted the aftermath of the protests, when his principal called the entire school together and made the protesters stand in front of everyone. Hrabowski, with his heart pounding, had no idea what was to come — expulsion looked most likely. The room was silent as his principal told the people facing the young protesters: “Now look into the face of courage.” 

Throughout the lecture, the educator had students and faculty on their feet, shouting out answers from the back row and contemplating math problems. He stressed the importance of asking questions and always remaining curious by putting himself in the hot seat, letting students ask him anything they wanted, such as “What do you struggle with the most?” “What have you done throughout your life to help you believe in yourself?” “How do you ask questions when you’re scared?” Hrabowski tackled them all, sharing stories of his own struggles and growth, modeling honor, courage, and integrity firsthand.