Music major, Blount Initiative freshman joins Blackburn

Published 2:01 am Friday, March 28, 2014

AHS graduate and UA freshman John David Thompson recently was inducted into the Blackburn Institute.

Blackburn was established in 1993 to honor Dr. John L. Blackburn and to cultivate the future ethical leaders for Alabama and the nation. The long-time dean of students is often credited with peacefully integrating the University during the 1960s. Later, he served as UA’s vice president for education development. When the University sought to honor him, he said he wasn’t comfortable having his name on a facility and asked instead for a program to develop ethical thinkers.


Each year, the institute accepts nominations but Thompson said he has no idea who nominated him.

Of the more than 300 students who were nominated, 180 completed the application process, and 64 got an interview, Thompson was one of 29 inducted.

In the interview, Thompson said, he was asked to talk about the Florida lottery and about music. Most of the inductees are natives of Alabama.

“So much of our enrollment is out of state, but Blackburn focuses a lot on in-state,” Thompson said. “They choose mostly in-state students. It’s about being prepared to give back to Alabama. We don’t don’t do services, it’s more about issues, in the hopes we’ll one day go out and help address them.”

Members of the institute, are invited to hear guest speakers, and have travel experiences in the state. In the next month, they’ll hear Michele Norris, the award-winning journalist, author and host of NPR’s “All Things Considered,” hold a new student retreat, and participate in the Montgomery Travel Experience.

The Montgomery trip will include sessions with Roy Moore, chief justice of the Alabama Supreme Court, and with Attorney General Luther Strange.

“It’s simply educating,” Thompson said. “It’s not a political position. It’s about forming your own views, and it’s a diverse group of people.”

He also is a member of the Blount Undergraduate Initiative, which supports a liberal arts education. Students have a special curriculum that includes seminars, discussion groups, special presentations, and activities that will engage them in an integrated approach to learning, and all freshmen live in the Blount Living-Learning.

For instance, UA grad and New York Times best-selling author Kathryn Stockett, who penned The Help, spoke to the group recently.

While those aren’t the places one typically would expect to find a music major, Thompson said he thinks it is important to explore other areas.

“It’s really important to do something else outside of your major area,” he said. “I like being exposed to other people, other thoughts and philosophies, and to have other options down the road.”

Currently, he’s enrolled in 13 hours of music classes, and practices piano a minimum of four hours per day.

In January, the UA School of Music kicked of its “Steinway Initiative,” the first step in becoming and All Steinway School, putting its music programs on par with Yale, Julliard and the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. Thompson was among the students asked to play at the school’s celebratory performance.

He also placed in the Alabama Federation of Music Club’s annual competition for students ages 19 to 26.

He plans to participate at a piano institute this summer, perhaps at Brevard in N.C., but before he leaves, will give a recital at Springdale on May 8. The time has not yet been set.