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ACU administrator’s nomination netted Bono a national prize

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Bono accepting the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding

Katie Dance

Irish rock musician Bono is the Grammy-award winning lead singer of U2, admired worldwide as an activist and humanitarian, an honorary knight in the United Kingdom, and one of Time Magazine’s Persons of the Year for 2005. And thanks to Dr. Jason Morris (’96), dean of the Honors College at Abilene Christian University, he can add another accolade to his list of accomplishments – the Fulbright Prize for International Understanding.

After nominating Bono for the award nearly two years ago, Morris got to meet and cheer on his nominee accepting the prestigious award at the Fulbright Prize award ceremony held March 31 in Washington, D.C., with ACU as one of the sponsors.

“It was a fantastic evening,” Morris said. “It was surreal to meet Bono and other influential people in D.C., but it was also exciting to see our institution highlighted as a sponsor at this event. ACU is becoming more recognizable within the Fulbright community with several of our students and faculty being named Fulbright recipients.”

Morris has been involved with the Fulbright Program for the better part of two decades, beginning with receiving a Fulbright student grant himself in 2002 while working on his doctorate at Texas Tech University. He traveled to Budapest, Hungary, that year as an English Teaching Assistant, and then later as a faculty member, when he received a Fulbright Scholar grant and returned to Hungary in 2009. 

Since that time, he’s served on the Fulbright Student Program National Screening Committee, as a Fulbright Grant application reviewer, and has been the Fulbright advisor for ACU for the past 12 years. Under his leadership, Abilene Christian was named a top producer of U.S. Fulbright students in 2018-19 and had nine students named as semi-finalists this year, a record number for the university. 

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Jason and Heidi Morris at the Fulbright Prize ceremony in Washington, D.C.

But Morris is also a lifelong U2 and Bono fan. When he received an email from the Fulbright Association calling for nominations for the Fulbright Prize, he glanced through the list of past winners. Although it included such world leaders and activists as Angela Merkel, Desmond Tutu and Nelson Mandela, Morris immediately noticed Bono was a glaring omission.   

“I thought he was an obvious choice with his accomplishments in the humanitarian realm,” Morris said. 

So he began drafting a nomination, attempting to represent Bono’s work and how it applied to the aims of the prize – to recognize and reward “outstanding contributions toward bringing peoples, cultures, or nations to greater understanding of others.” Before hitting submit, Morris reached out to Ron Hadfield, ACU’s assistant vice president for university communications, for help editing the nomination to increase its chances of being selected. Hadfield offered a few insights and polishing to Morris’ essay.

Not surprisingly, as the world faced an unprecedented pandemic, Morris didn’t hear anything about his submission for more than a year. But a few months ago the Fulbright Association sent an email naming Bono as the 2021 recipient, and Morris’ nomination was posted on the Fulbright website announcing the award.

“I was shocked that my nominee had received the award,” Morris said.  

Although being the source of the selected nominee didn’t net Morris a Fulbright-paid trip to the award ceremony, Abilene Christian signed on as an event sponsor, alongside four other universities, and Morris was able to travel to D.C. for the ceremony with his wife, Dr. Heidi (White ’98) Morris, associate professor of marriage and family studies at ACU. There, Morris met Bono and congratulated him on the award. Knowing that Bono was a friend and fan of the late Johnny Cash, Morris also took the opportunity to gift the musician a copy of Trains, Jesus and Murder: The Gospel According to Johnny Cash, a book authored by colleague Dr. Richard Beck (’90), associate professor and chair of psychology. 

“He seemed pleased,” Morris reported.

 
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