Convergent Paths

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The community, the expectation of excellence, the intimate classes, the Honor Code, the beauty of campus—students choose Davidson for different reasons. But scholarships often make it possible for them to accept the college’s offer to enroll.

Roger Brown ’78, Melissa Givens ’89 and Ellie Trefzger Morales ’07 lead, teach and serve in their communities, exemplifying the Davidson mission. And scholarships made their educational paths possible.

Opera singer on stage performing
Melissa Givens ’89 (Photo by Christopher Record)

Beautiful Music: Melissa Givens ’89

A writer for Classical Net says “Melissa Givens has a voice you imagine coming from the goddess Erda.”

Givens, a 1989 Davidson graduate, is part of a Grammy-winning choral ensemble and an assistant professor at Pomona College in California. Music and the liberal arts are present in her daily life, and that means Davidson is present, too. 

“I had been fairly ambivalent about where I wanted to go to college,” says Givens. “I knew I wanted to go away—adventure awaits!—and I knew I wanted some place challenging, but, to use the language of the day, nothing had ‘sparked joy in me.’”

As a bright high school student, she received stacks of college brochures from around the country. After being told to clean up her room early in her senior year, Givens came across the Davidson information underneath her bed. A quick thumb-through and she was intrigued. She abandoned her parent-imposed rule: “You can only go 600 miles from Buffalo.” 

After a campus visit with her father, she was irretrievably hooked, the financial aid package was right and Davidson became her place. (Later, she realized Charlotte was right on the edge of the radius she’d drawn in her atlas.)

Originally seeking a pre-med path, Givens did not pack a single piece of music in her luggage, despite her lifelong interest in singing and piano. An avid fan of science, she declared her intention to pursue medicine as a profession at an early age. Though she excelled at and enjoyed it, Givens only thought of music as a hobby. 

Her plans changed, and she came to the attention of the music faculty when she was drafted into the freshman talent show by her roommate, Camille Cooper ’89.

“I didn’t want to do the group act, and the only way they’d let me out of it was a solo singing act,” Givens says. “I tried protesting, unaware that I’d been heard singing throughout the dorm already. Without any sheet music, I had to resort to an a cappella performance of an aria I’d studied in high school… and it brought the house down. I saw [former college president]Dr. Kuykendall when I was on campus earlier this spring, and he told me he still remembers it.”

The soprano regularly performs repertoire from the Baroque era through music of the 21st century. She remains in demand on concert series throughout the United States and internationally, including recent recitals in Claremont (Calif.), Georgia and Houston. She released her solo CD, “Let The Rain Kiss You,” in 2001.

Countless professors and campus leaders at Davidson inspired Givens as a student. In recognition and appreciation, she pays it forward by working with talented young people through the liberal arts curriculum at Pomona. 

“I believe that educating students in a broadly based curriculum that emphasizes critical thinking and synthesis of thoughts and ideas across multiple disciplines produces people who can do that kind of work, that inquiry, in a way that moves society forward,” she says. “It produces people who value context and process over outrage and noise.” 

As she continues to teach, perform and record, Givens strives to model musical and personal integrity to her students. 

“Now, more than ever, that is what this next generation needs to see as a necessary component of humanity,” she says. 

Man sitting in a chair with artwork in the background
Roger Brown ’78 (Courtesy of Roger Brown)

Making Things Happen: Roger Brown ’78

Roger Brown ’78 says the students at Boston’s Berklee College of Music make courageous choices to enter challenging fields—music, dance and theater. Brown, who is president of the college, connects to this courage—he often seeks opportunities to change what’s not working or create what’s needed. He likes a challenge, too. 

Following Davidson and nearly a decade of international development work focused on social change and education, Brown and his wife, Linda Mason, decided to make change closer to home. 

In the mid-1980s, the number of households with two working parents skyrocketed from about 25 percent to more than 60 percent as mothers joined the workforce. 

The couple observed a growing need among working families and created Bright Horizons, the world’s largest worksite childcare organization. 

“We felt like there was a crisis of young families trying to raise families, needing to work,” says Brown. “A lot of the burden of childcare fell to the mother. We thought we could professionalize the world of early childhood education, and it would be good for families, educational for children and beneficial for companies who sponsored centers for their employees.

“We got the idea for Bright Horizons from a friend whose daughter had been on the waiting list of Harvard Business School’s onsite childcare center for three years,” he says. “We concluded that this was a big problem with a solution ripe with opportunity.” 

Today, the regularly touted “best company to work for” has more than 32,000 employees and operates more than 1,000 childcare centers worldwide.

A college presidency, which Brown accepted in 2004 after he and his wife stepped down as the leaders of Bright Horizons, is not a departure from his passions. Rather, it is a new way to make things happen—through developing young minds at Berklee. 

“It combines my interests in music, cross-cultural leadership, education, entrepreneurship and social change,” he says. “Our students are iconoclastic, wildly talented young people, placing a big bet and a lot of trust in Berklee. We take seriously the risk they’re taking and try to help them increase the odds that they will have sustainable jobs as artists.”

Nine Berklee alumni won Grammys this year bringing the total Grammy count to 294, including artists like Quincy Jones, John Mayer, Branford Marsalis, Esperanza Spalding, Danilo Perez and Melissa Etheridge. 

Brown’s own undergraduate experience at Davidson helped him give himself “permission,” he says, to experiment and take risks. Inspired by the Classics Department trip to Greece, Brown worked for nearly a decade in Africa and Asia.  

“I realized that living abroad was exciting and educational—you learn twice as fast, not only about the new culture in which you are living, but also about your own. Then I went off to Kenya to teach math in a high school with the help of the Office of Experiential Learning at Davidson, a program many other students also participated in. I went on to work in Cambodia in refugee camps. Getting immersed in other cultures was a huge growth experience for me.”

After returning to the United States and finishing his studies at Yale, Brown and Mason served as codirectors of a Save the Children Federation initiative for famine relief in Sudan. The innovative program served more than 400,000 people, is estimated to have saved more than 20,000 lives and became the blueprint for future large-scale U.N. relief efforts.

Music—percussion, to be precise—provided the steady beat through his education and careers. At Davidson, he played jazz, fusion and swing for several bands and co-wrote a musical comedy as a senior project.

As a 17-year-old, on Brown’s Davidson application, he wrote, “I am used to hard work, I am easy to please and I am eager to learn.” 

The reminder of his characterization of his college-going self as “easy to please” gets a laugh today, but throughout his career, Brown says with certainty that he works hard and is always learning, infusing creative problem solving into every day. 

“The most essential skill in life is creativity,” Brown says. “The people who bring something into existence that didn’t exist before—in music, business, non-profits—those are the people who move us forward.”

Outdoor portrait of a woman with green leaves in the background
Ellie Trefzger Morales ’07 (Photo by Woody Marshall)

Road Not Taken: Ellie Trefzger Morales ’07

Ellie Trefzger Morales’ phone buzzed with an unfamiliar number —she almost didn’t answer but decided instead to take the call. That’s when she learned she’d won the General Douglas MacArthur Army Leadership Award. She put her phone away and went back to business, conferring with her colleague about the case they were about to argue. 

The prestigious leadership award is presented by the Chief of Staff of the Army to fewer than 20 junior Army officers each year. 

With national attention and a career on the move, Morales says she is most proud of two things: Her admittance to Davidson and her daughter. Morales and her husband, Francisco, also Davidson College class of 2007, are expecting their second child this summer. 

The award was an unexpected public acknowledgment of the driving force behind nearly every life decision Morales has made—an unwavering commitment to service. That commitment extends from her time at Davidson to a deployment in Afghanistan to her work as a federal prosecutor with the Department of Justice.

A Division I swimmer and Army ROTC cadet, Morales chose Davidson over the U.S. Naval Academy and West Point. With competitive scholarship offers from all three, the choice was entirely her own. 

“Davidson taught me to think critically and creatively and to analyze and evaluate a problem with an open mind,” Morales says. “I learned how to think for myself, and I learned that it takes courage to do what’s right. Being able to consider all viewpoints and facts without making assumptions is a good foundation for a legal career.” 

As a scholar-athlete, Morales applied the same skills to her sport. 

“I had been swimming competitively since I was five, and sometimes it’s hard to be passionate about something you’ve been doing for so long,” she says. “But my swimming coach at Davidson, John Young, approached the sport in a totally different way than any of my prior coaches. He has more of an analytical approach; it changed my viewpoint and reignited my passion for the sport.” 

Through swimming and ROTC—in the pool and in the woods, she says—Morales learned time management and other important attributes that come with balancing a rigorous schedule.

Today, Morales serves as an assistant United States attorney for the Department of Justice. Following Davidson, she graduated from Wake Forest University School of Law and subsequently served on active duty with the United States Army as a Judge Advocate General (JAG), which included one tour in Afghanistan. In 2015, she transitioned into the reserves, where she continues to serve as a JAG one weekend per month. 

In both jobs, “there is the underlying premise of serving others, and getting to serve alongside other extremely talented people while also serving my country,” Morales says. 

Recently, she was promoted from captain to major.

“Inspired by my parents, I have always tried to live by the ideas in Robert Frost’s poem, ‘The Road Not Taken,’” says Morales. “I’ve learned that you don’t have to follow the crowd, that taking the road less traveled takes courage and that committing myself to serving others has made all the difference.”  

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About Author

Danielle Strickland

Danielle Strickland concentrates on development-related stories, and she enjoys making connections with Davidson’s most engaged alumni and friends. She holds a bachelor’s degree in communication from James Madison University and a master’s in higher education leadership from the University of Arkansas. Thankfully, after seven years working as a Razorback, her red-heavy wardrobe allowed for a smooth transition to life as a Wildcat.

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