Retiring President Thomas E. Corts stressed the importance of "authenticity" to members of the Samford University graduating class Saturday, May 20. He addressed the class in his final commencement before retiring May 31 after 23 years as head of Alabama's largest private university.
"In a world of both cheap and expensive imitations, to be authentic may be the great virtue that magnifies all life's meaningful experiences and relationships," Dr. Corts told some 650 seniors and a crowd of about 5,000 at Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena.
Corts used 19th century Parliament member William Wilberforce, a "relentless voice" against slavery in the British Empire, to illustrate his point. "Wilberforce's authenticity would not allow him to invalidate his conscience," Corts noted, adding that slavery ultimately was abolished in the United Kingdom due largely to his efforts, and this influenced its end in America as well.
"May you be blessed with an authentic good life," Corts told the seniors. "That is my prayer for each of you."
The Samford president presented diplomas to 832 graduates Saturday, including another 182 seniors completing Samford's Cumberland School of Law later in the day. That brought to more than 18,000 the number of degrees he awarded as Samford president.
"The quest for authenticity can keep you from that superficial brand of patriotism that substitutes jingoistic slogans and phrases for thought," Corts added. "In a nation of single-issue politics, accustomed to sound bites and advertising tag-lines, a public figure sometimes feels he scores points the more times he can repeat certain phrases like Founding Fathers,' Ten Commandments,' Conservative,' Tough on Crime,' etc."
Corts reminded graduates that Samford tried to introduce them to "the joy of helping other people, without any expectation of reward."
"You will find that the basic values of our society depend upon the willingness of good people to render voluntary service," he said. "I pray your learning at Samford encompasses a desire to serve, to volunteer, to make America work by making your community work; to authenticate your citizenship."
Also at commencement, Samford conferred honorary doctorates on Alabama Baptist denominational leader Rick Lance and church music scholar Donald Paul Hustad. Dr. Lance, executive director of the Alabama Baptist State Board of Missions and a 1973 Samford graduate, received the Doctor of Humane Letters. Dr. Hustad, a well-known composer, editor and conductor of church music, received the Doctor of Fine Arts.
Samford also presented a new award, the Samford Medallion, established last year by the Samford board of trustees. It honors people whose specific accomplishments for civic and community good have been largely unheralded. The first two Samford Medallions went to Caroline Bear Novak, president of A+ Education Foundation, and William E. Smith, Jr., chairman of Royal Cup, Inc., for their contributions in behalf of K-12 education in Alabama.
Samford gave out its top senior awards at commencement. The President's Cup for the highest academic average went to Charlton Ross Hollon of Birmingham and Christopher Buren Sharon of Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif. The Velma Wright Irons Award for the second highest average was presented to Lisa Lynn Moore of Huntsville. The John C. Pittman Spirit Award went to Melanie Patrice Ervin of Rockford, Ala., and Melissa Joy Jones of Birmingham.
Florida Attorney General Charlie Crist, a 1981 graduate of the Samford law school, told law graduates they should "always be ready to advance the cause of justice" and that they would get plenty of opportunities.
"You can be a pivotal player if you are willing to take a risk," he said. "Give in to taking an occasional risk even though there are long odds prevailing against the outcome." He urged the law graduates to use their practice "for the greater good," saying that by doing so, "You all can do great things."
Crist spoke to a crowd of about 2,000 in Wright Center Concert Hall at Samford.