A Legacy Begins
At Commencement, one student looks back, and ahead
For Sharrod McClusky, sophomore year of high school was a turning point in his life. Over the course of just three months, he lost four great-grandparents, all of whom had played a significant role in his life. After their deaths, the Atlanta native decided he needed to redirect his life.
“My freshman and sophomore years of high school were pretty rough for me,” he recalls. “I was always fighting or getting into trouble.”
After losing his great-grandparents, he ran for and won election as his class representative and began volunteering and building a network of mentors. He attended the Maynard Jackson Youth Foundation Leadership Academy, which teaches leadership skills to young persons in the Metro Atlanta area. Through his involvement in the organization, McClusky was nominated to be among the first participants in the BU Posse program. Posse’s premise: send a group of leadership-oriented inner city students with similar backgrounds to college together, and they will boost one another’s chances of thriving; since 1989 the nonprofit has guided more than 4,200 students to 40 participating universities that have provided nearly $485 million in full-tuition scholarships. McClusky and 11 other students were chosen from a pool of 500 Atlanta area nominees to attend BU. “That’s when my legacy began at Boston University,” he says.
And what a legacy he’s amassed. McClusky was a First Year Student Outreach Project coordinator, the freshman representative for the black student union, UMOJA, and a volunteer in the Admissions Office and the Disability Services Office. He’s been a regular presence in the Dean of Students Office and an active member of the Howard Thurman Center and the Community Service Center, where he was an Alternative Spring Break chaperone. Last week, he was honored as one of this year’s Scarlet Key recipients, an award given to seniors who have played major leadership roles at BU.
“We call him the Yoda of the office,” says CSC director Lindsey Kotowicz, “because he always has these profound ways of saying things. He draws them out with his Southern charm.”
McClusky, a philosophy major, admits that before coming to BU, the only thing he really knew about the University was that Martin Luther King, Jr. (GRS’55, Hon.’59) had studied here. “He’s a big role model for me, coming from the same area that I came from,” he says. “I like to think that we have similar backgrounds.” He was impressed when he learned about the role Boston University played in the Civil Rights movement. “Lots of students who were kicked out of school in the South came here,” McClusky says. “And if it wasn’t for Howard Thurman, Martin Luther King would never have met Gandhi. So it was either Boston University or nothing for me.” Thurman (Hon.’67), dean of Marsh Chapel from 1953 to 1965, was the first black dean of a predominantly white university.
McClusky credits his mother, Damita McClusky, with inspiring him to a career in public service. “I know how to comfort someone when they need help,” he says, “and it’s all because of my mom.” This weekend, mother and son shared the joy and pride of Commencement. “It’s very important for my mom to see me graduate,” he says. “I wouldn’t be here without her.”
With graduation behind him, McClusky hopes to continue building on his legacy of public service. He’ll return to Atlanta this summer to work with the organization that helped him get to BU. “I want to give back to Posse,” he says. “It gives me hope that I’ll be able to make an impact on that organization the way they’ve made an impact on me.” His long-term goal is to become the U.S. congressman for Georgia’s fifth district, a seat currently held by civil rights pioneer John Lewis.
“The fifth district is the heart of Atlanta, the part where I grew up,” McClusky says. “I’m going to take the skills I learned at Boston University and continue to build community back home.”9 Comments