The Visiting Humanist

It’s been close to two months into the 2012 spring semester, and the University of Rochester, perhaps the City of Rochester, is shying away from the characteristically strong winter. Every now and then, I hear comments about how pleasantly disappointing this year’s winter has been—thus far. I quite remember that I couldn’t see the ground for close to four months during last year’s winter, which begs the response: “Maybe it is nature’s own way of paying back for the cold conditions of last year?”

Kwame Anthony Appiah and Barack ObamaAnyway, as is usually the case with any strong community of intellectuals, a variety of things make news headlines at the University of Rochester from week to week. A few weeks ago, one such headline was the visit of Kwame Anthony Appiah, a Ghanaian-British-American philosopher and a Laurance S. Rockefeller University Professor of Philosophy at Princeton University. He was named by President Obama as one of nine people to receive the National Humanities Medal at a ceremony at the White House in February.

Speaking of the interesting part, I got the chance to attend a dinner held in his honor by President Joel Seligman at the Witmer House (the University President’s residence). I was with Lendsey Achudi, a fellow Renaissance & Global Scholar here at the U of R. Lendsey, from Kenya, is a sophomore majoring in international relations and public health. By the way, fully aware of what I am up against, I should mention that she thinks girls run the world all the time—though I tell her  guys can turn the world over. (I win here, Lendsey.)

Anyway, upon arriving and making my way through the hallway, I met two gentlemen—one of whom was Kwame Anthony Appiah. “Hello,” I said. “Hello,” the men responded. Then, reaching out for a handshake, the cosmopolitan asked, “And you are . . .?” “Oswald Codjoe,” I replied. With a curious look, he said, “The last name sounds Ghanaian. Are you . . .?” “Yes, I am from Ghana,” I responded. He smiled, and we started what would be an interesting conversation.


As you would expect, we spoke, among many other things, about Ghanaian food and culture, and his time in Ghana. I am intrigued when I say that for a cosmopolitan of his caliber, his “Ghanaianess” is not lost in him. I remember him talking about when he was asked to be a local chief, the last time he was in Ghana, and how he turned down the offer by saying something like, “You want me to be chief? Inheritance in the Ashanti Kingdom is matrilineal, and you guys are very much aware that my mom is not an Ashanti. Therefore, I can’t be chief.” I found that smart and probably the smoothest way to decline such an offer.  

The Witmer House

It was a great night, and I am glad to have interacted with not only an intellectual but also a person of his sort. I had read some of his articles for my economics classes, and seeing a face behind those thoughts was an amazing experience. Oh, and before I forget, I can now check “attend an event at the Witmer House” off the list of 101 things to do before you graduate from the University of Rochester. Thanks for reading.

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Oswald Codjoe

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