Universities are affected by many forces at work in the environment. Location, student population, faculty composition and a multitude of other factors shape what a university is.
On occasion, an individual will come along and join a university, sometimes as a student, and possibly later as a faculty or staff member, and eventually become an institution-within-the-institution. Dr. Seymour Bryson is such a person. A rare individual of the highest quality. By grace I had the privilege to work at his side. He always told me what he thought about a situation directly, without varnish, in a way that was easy to understand. The message he sent was clear.
But more importantly, the message he sent was consistent. This man is committed to the idea that the University should provide opportunity to young people to get a start in life – to better their own circumstance, to become something that might have been only a dream for a parent – more wholly than anyone I have ever met.
He arrived on campus in 1955 to study, and play a little basketball, both of which he did with passion, determination and excellence. He earned a PhD and still holds the career rebound record for our basketball program… and he finished playing nearly 50 years ago. When he got to Carbondale a black man couldn’t have lunch on the strip. He could go to school here, but was not allowed to enter a restaurant.
Dr. Bryson had two heroes that I know of, Dr. Morris and Dr. Boydston. He is a man that admires the quality of leadership in others.
Dr. Morris understood opportunity in a powerful way, with a clarity that is rare, and lives on in a few of his students. Seymour was one of them. Dr. Morris told those restaurateurs on the strip that if the black students could not eat in their place, than the white ones wouldn’t either. This display of standing for what’s right has a powerful effect on me even today… courage and tenacity for deeply seated beliefs.
“Why can’t I do that?” You can. Seymour does.
Dr. Boydston helped recruit athletes here like Dr. Bryson, Harold Bardo, James Jim Battle, Paul Henry, Oscar Moore, Jim Rosser and Sam Silas. This set an example of caring for people that Dr. Bryson continues to follow, and will as long as there is breath in the man. It is who he is.
He is an advocate. He advocates for those who by birth, citizenship or personal belief might have a door closed that should have been open, but he has also always expected performance, respect, hard work, responsibility, and accountability. Students know and respond, because their teacher lives these qualities.
It is not always easy to stand for what you believe, to practice what you preach, to take the road less traveled, to cut across the grain. Morris did, Boydston did, and Bryson does. In his quiet persistence for what he believed right, and his dogged determination to see it through, he may embody very well the words of Martin Luther King Junior, “Ten thousand fools proclaim themselves into obscurity, while one wise man forgets himself into immortality”.
Our university is fortunate for the life of service of Dr. Seymour Bryson.