As a rising senior at Duke University, Morgan Ramsey already has an impressive number of accomplishments under her belt. This classical pianist has performed in New York’s Carnegie Hall and has directed local musicals at The Willow School. Passionate about social activism, she has also traveled to and lived in the Dominican Republic to learn about inequality. Morgan has interned for Google two summers in a row in the company’s People Operations department, first on its Benefits team and then its Diversity Markets team.
She also founded the Black Women’s Union at Duke, works as a research assistant at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, and is president of the Lambda Omega chapter of Delta Sigma Theta—all on top of maintaining her spot on the Dean’s List. Out of this extraordinary list of achievements, what is Morgan most proud of accomplishing in her 21 years? We interviewed her to find out.
Name: Morgan Ramsey
College: Duke University
Majors: Public Policy
Graduation Year: May 2016
Hometown: Philadelphia, PA
Instagram Handle: @_simply_mo
Her Campus: What do you consider your greatest achievement to date?
Morgan Ramsey: Surprisingly, my greatest achievement to date was actually blowing my audition for the largest classical piano competition on the east coast. For this particular piano competition, I studied my piece (Chopin’s "Revolutionary Etude") for nearly a year. Despite my preparation, I was completely unprepared for the overwhelming amount of judgment I felt as the only African-American competitor during the competition. Unfortunately, I allowed their perception of me to affect me so much that I couldn’t remember the middle half of my piece. I sat there for a few seconds in silence then listened to the pens of the six judges scribbling on my profile. I received a passive ‘thank you’ and was dismissed.
Several months later, I entered another competition. I was so determined to redeem myself from my last competition I practiced twice as hard. Most importantly, I grew confident in my ability despite there being so few African-Americans represented in classical music. When the competition day finally arrived, I opened the Music Hall registration door to the same situation - the curious and doubtful eyes, the whispers of confusion - but this time, I didn’t let that distract me.
A month later, the chairman of the competition called to announce that out of the regional competition, I placed second and was invited to perform the piece at the infamous Carnegie Hall in New York. Playing at Carnegie Hall was certainly an achievement and my biggest dream come true. However, I often think back to this experience and realize that my greatest achievement was learning from that first audition failure. It taught me to not worry about other people’s perception of me based on my race or gender but to fully embrace my individuality.
HC: What role has piano played in your life, whether literal or symbolic?
MR: I believe studying the importance of focus, persistence and dedication through competitive classical piano has led me to discover my passion for social activism. Through my experiences, I sought out to dispel the stereotype that great concert pianists could not possibility be black. As a result, I understood the notion of “equal-importance” at an early age and thus was bothered when others were treated unfairly due to being themselves. Starting as early as fifth grade, I took matters into my own hands to establish more equality at my school. I created a club called “Everybody Counts,” designed to be an inclusive club for everyone who felt left out.
This passion of fighting against inequality matured in high school when I established a club called “Global Connections.” This club was designed to host fundraisers for school supplies and donate them to schools in need. In college, I then traveled abroad for a non-profit organization to research and propose solutions to address the discriminatory practice of Dominican-Haitians being denied an education in the Dominican Republic. I also created a social club for the personal and professional development of black women so that we have a voice on my college campus. I have worked with Google, alongside the company’s Diversity Markets Team, to strategize how they can close the digital divide for minority businesses.
Therefore, the role of piano, literally and symbolically, has shown me that all the keys (black and white) are important and needed collectively to truly create a masterpiece that matters - whether it’s music, education or business.
HC: What does it mean to not be a stereotype? How can collegiettes break the mold with confidence?
MR: In my opinion, a stereotype is a specific image or idea that society has molded for a specific category of people. Sometimes, we can feel anxious when we don’t fit that mold. As a result, we try to shape ourselves to fit that mold. To not be a stereotype means you break the mold that society has crafted for a specific category of people and you embrace your talents, interests, and abilities. You need to be true to yourself and celebrate your uniqueness.
I have realized that God has given me very unique attributes and I refuse to be placed into an oversimplified image of a black woman. In my case, my hair can be bone straight but I also love my curly Afro. I can listen to the popular rap songs and but also enjoy a Chopin Scherzo or Beethoven Symphony. I can join a game of pick-up basketball but also suit up for a game of field hockey. I am proud to be a quirky, passionate, unique woman of color - and that’s how I believe I’ve broken the mold with confidence.
I challenge collegiettes to recognize that it is better to be different. Don’t limit or define your abilities and ambitions by someone else’s narrow images or ideas. It’s powerful and liberating to be yourself. Be proud of where you come from. Be proud to be you.
HC: What advice do you have for other ambitious collegiettes with a goal/dream?
MR: Don’t ever doubt yourself. Don’t ever think you're too black or too white, too rich or too poor, too this or too that, to achieve your goal or dream. You will only sell yourself short. God has a purpose for all of us, and it may not make sense why He chose you to do the work. For example, I didn’t understand why I fell into becoming a black female classical pianist, but at the end of the day, everything happens for a reason. If I felt that I was “too black” or “too cool” to enjoy classical piano competitions, I probably would have never discovered my true passion of advocacy work.
In all, don’t worry about the end result, just follow your heart, as everything that is supposed to work out, will.
Alicia serves as an Assistant Editor for Her Campus. She graduated from Penn State in 2015 with degrees in Journalism and Spanish and a minor in International Studies. Before she joined HC full-time, Alicia worked for the editorial team as an intern, editor of the Her Story section, editor of the Career section, standard content writer, viral content writer, and News Blogger. When she's not busy writing or editing, Alicia enjoys attempting to become a yogi, cooking, practicing her wine tasting skills, hanging out with her Friends (you know—Chandler, Monica, Ross, Rachel, Phoebe & Joey?) and city-hopping her way across the globe. You can find her on Twitter and Instagram at @aliciarthomas.