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William H. Hayling to Baccalaureate Celebrants: “Become a Mentor.”

Champion of social justice says education is the most powerful world-changing tool

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"Even if you never achieve your goals," William Hayling told the audience, "always be in pursuit of excellence." Photo by Frank Curran

William H. Hayling, a renowned African-American obstetrician and founder of 100 Black Men of America, was only 14 when his father died of pneumonia. Such a profound loss would send many adolescents into a self-destructive spiral of grief and anger, but Hayling was more fortunate than most. “I had a very supportive mother and several family friends,” the 82-year-old physician told the audience at Boston University’s Commencement day Baccalaureate Service Sunday at Marsh Chapel. “They became my mentors.”

Hayling, who attributes his success to these early role models, urged the crowd to “help another human being who needs some guidance,” by becoming a mentor. “Remember,” he said, “the greatness of an institution is judged not by its library or endowment, but by the contributions of the men and women who go forth from it, the services they render to others, and the humility in which they serve.”

During his 55-year career, Hayling has treated thousands of women and delivered more than 8,000 babies, but he is most proud of his leadership role as a teen mentor. “My true passion is helping young people grow into productive and compassionate leaders,” he said, “particularly those who have had poor or absent male role models in their lives.”

As is tradition, the Baccalaureate Service opened with an organ and brass ensemble, followed by a greeting and prayer led by Reverend Robert Allan Hill, the dean of Marsh Chapel. University Provost David Campbell read from the Wisdom of Solomon, and President Robert Brown read from the Gospel of Matthew.

Hill then introduced Hayling, describing him as a man “whose vocation to healing reached out to meet the needs of others.”

Hayling began his address by reminiscing about 1943 — the year he entered Boston University as a 17-year-old premed student. A gifted athlete, he soon found himself dedicating too much time to the varsity basketball team and too little time to his studies — until he received a stern letter from a family friend and physician. “He asked if I was planning to become a basketball player or a doctor,” he recalled. “So I dropped basketball to concentrate solely on my premed subjects.”

Hayling graduated at age 23 from the Howard University College of Medicine and accepted a residency at Harlem Hospital in New York City. He later served as a battlefield surgeon with a MASH unit during the Korean War, earning a Bronze Star. From 1957 until 1981, he was chief of ambulatory obstetrics and gynecology at Martin Luther King, Jr., Hospital in Los Angeles, and from 1981 until 1998, he was a faculty member at the Charles R. Drew University of Medicine and Science.

But Hayling is best known for his work outside of medicine. Following the example set by the role models from his youth, Hayling cofounded 100 Black Men of America, Inc., a mentoring program for young African-Americans and other minorities, in 1963. Other founding members included baseball legend Jackie Robinson and David Dinkins, who later became mayor of New York City. The organization has more than 100 chapters and 10,000 members. Hayling also volunteers with Mentoring Today for Tomorrow, an after-school program for young people ages 9 through 18, in California’s Riverside County.

Concluding his address, Hayling told Baccalaureate celebrants that education is the most important weapon they can use to change the world. “You will make errors in some of your decisions in life,” Hayling said, “but you must never err in your purpose or resolve. Even if you never achieve your ideals, always be in the pursuit of excellence.”

Vicky Waltz can be reached at vwaltz@bu.edu.

4 Comments

4 Comments on William H. Hayling to Baccalaureate Celebrants: “Become a Mentor.”

  • LILA RIDEAU on 05.19.2008 at 7:09 pm

    CONGRATULATIONS

    YOUR ARE LEAVING A REMARKABLE LEGACY FOR ALL THE YOUNG ONES IN OUR FAMILY. YOUR NAME WILL BE SPOKEN AT THE DINNER TABLE FOR MANY YEARS TO COME.
    I AM SO PROUD TO HAVE YOU AS A BROTHER-IN-LAW AND TO BE ABLE TO PASS YOUR WORDS OF WISDOM ON TO MY GRANDSON.
    THANK YOU FOR YOUR CONTRIBUTION TO OUR FAMILY.

    LOVE,
    LILA

  • Anonymous on 05.20.2008 at 7:40 pm

    I wish there were more stories on the internet and the new media in general of wonderful life experiences such as this gentleman has had. My sister sent me this email and I thank her for sharing with me. Sure would be a wonderful experience to have a cup of decaf with Dr. Hayling. He truly is a great example of a wonderful human being.

  • Sonjia & Walter Young on 06.08.2008 at 9:42 pm

    PROUD FRIENDS

    Boy, Now that’s what I call a REAL MAN , great father, husband ,Grandfather an mentor to so many…

    Bill we are so proud of you ..for passing the message
    of leadership and purpose on to the youth of our country……..Keep speaking the truth and they will listen…

    Pam says your handicap in golf ..is off the chart!
    You go Bill. and still looking good……….

    Love Ya,

    Sonjia & Walter

  • Anonymous on 08.21.2008 at 4:37 pm

    an excellent model

    Vicki, thanks for writing a good article about a great man. it’s great to give graduating seniors a wonderful role model to emulate. And it’s especially worthwhile to show seniors successful African-American individuals. Too often, the only heroes available to people of color are NBA players. And while they make significant amounts of dollars, often their social contribution is nil.

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