During the fall meeting of the Southwestern Board of Visitors earlier this semester, business and economics major Markell Henderson ’19 was invited to give a speech about his experiences as a student. Henderson’s successes are many: he’s an award-winning football player, a Kemper Scholar, and cofounder of Established Men Promoting Intelligence, Respect, and Efficacy, a campus organization for minority men better known as EMPIRE. The following is his speech from the meeting.

Good afternoon.

Thank you all for being here with us today; I know some of you have traveled far. Thank you, President Burger and Mr. Huntsman, for the introduction and for allowing me to speak to such a good-looking crowd. With a crowd this good looking, I am not sure if I am qualified to speak to you today. But I am honored to share a little about my Southwestern Experience with you. My four years at Southwestern have been a journey full of many characters and moving pieces.

I am from San Antonio, Texas, where I attended Texas Military Institute. We are famously known for our JROTC program, which graduated General Douglas MacArthur. While I was there, I was involved in a variety of extracurricular activities. Upon graduation, I knew I wanted to attend a university that placed the same sort of emphasis on growth both inside and outside of the classroom, but I was not sure where that would be.

I had never heard of SU prior to an email I received from one of our football coaches. Initially, I visited as a courtesy because Head Coach Joe Austin and his staff were very interested in me attending the following year. As I left the campus, I knew this was a great place. I soon realized that I was comparing all options to Southwestern and believed this was going to be the best place to be intellectually challenged and continue my personal growth.

I’d like to highlight three of my many SU experiences that have played a major role in becoming who I am today.

Southwestern provides students with experiences that we didn’t know we needed nor that we knew existed.

Southwestern provides students with experiences that we didn’t know we needed nor that we knew existed. The first is the Kemper Scholars program. The program is run by the Kemper Foundation and identifies high-achieving first-year students with an interest in and openness to learning about business and insurance. The program provides scholarship, mentorship, and professional-development workshops. There are only eight universities in the country who are involved in the program, which include names like SMU, Washington University in St. Louis, and Wake Forest. Southwestern is one of the longest-standing member groups of this program.

While being in the program, I was able to live in Chicago with a cohort of 16 other students whom I was able to learn from and share experiences with. At Southwestern, we focus on making cross-disciplinary connections. I was able to take the things I learned from my sociology and business classes to engage in dynamic conversations with my peers (at 3 a.m. while eating Korean candy) who all came from different backgrounds. Along with challenging my thinking and forcing me outside of my comfort zone, the program served as a ramp into life after graduation. I was able to develop important skills that helped me secure a job after graduation at Northern Trust as an investments associate. This is also due largely to Dana Luna, Daniel Orozco, and Alexandra Anderson in our amazing career services office.

When I am not doing school work or career-related tasks, I play football. Although I can barely see over this podium, I am actually a pretty big guy—at least that’s how I feel on the football field. Our football team was resurrected in 2013, and I am fortunate to have been part of a team that helped rebuild the program. My freshman year, we went 2-8, which was extraordinarily difficult and taxing both physically and emotionally. The following year, we finished 7-3 and won a conference championship. Winning that championship was a really special time for so many of us on that team. Both the school and community welcome the football team and all athletic teams with open arms. You can always count on somebody in the community to stop and ask about the upcoming game or congratulate you anytime you wear any athletic gear. The athletics here allow students to compete at a very high level within Division III without compromising our educations. I have gained a group of lifelong buddies who I know I can count on in times of need. Football has allowed me to improve my leadership and teamwork skills while helping me understand the true meaning of commitment.

One of my favorite and one the most important things about my Southwestern Experience is the support from the school to engage in difficult conversations and promote inclusion.

One of my favorite and one the most important things about my Southwestern Experience is the support from the school to engage in difficult conversations and promote inclusion. In the spring of 2016, myself and seven other young men banded together to create an organization known as EMPIRE, which stands for Established Men Promoting Intelligence, Respect, and Efficacy. We set out to present minority men in a positive light away from the athletic area via community service, social gatherings, and open dialogue. My favorite event that we hold is our annual community cookout. We invite families, friends, and members of the community to come to campus for some good ole Cajun crawfish. We have games, music, amazing food, but most importantly, a good time together. The University has supported us and our mission every step of the way and continues to help us grow and build. P.S. Dr. Burger, the members of EMPIRE said they are more than willing to beat you in dominos when you are free.  

These are just some of the impactful experiences that Southwestern has gifted me. I am extremely blessed to have ended up in a place that has fueled my intellectual curiosity and helped me grow in more ways than I could have ever imagined. I am forever grateful for my time here at Southwestern. I will leave the school a much better person and a more well-rounded person than when I arrived in the fall of 2015. I am not the first student who needed Southwestern and surely won’t be the last, and it is because of people like all of you.

To everyone in the audience, thank you. Thank you for your continuous support. We appreciate all that you do to help this university grow and evolve. It is your work and the work of others before you that have helped create such an impactful experience for so many of the students here. I am forever grateful for the opportunity to have attended Southwestern, and I know so many others are as well. Thank you.