Samford University graduated 211 students in the first of two commencement ceremonies Dec. 13. The ceremony honored students in Samford’s School of the Arts, Howard College of Arts and Sciences, Brock School of Business, Orlean Beeson School of Education and Cumberland School of Law.
Samford MBA alumna and Birmingham native Leigh Davis ’05 presented the morning’s commencement address, linking the students’ future to her own family’s experience of hope, faith and persistence through failure.
Davis is vice president for economic and community development at Alabama Power Company, an accomplished attorney in many business fields, and a leader in numerous regional charitable and community organizations, including Samford’s board of overseers. She told graduates the story of her great grandmother, the matriarch of her Lebanese immigrant family and known to all generations as “Mama.” “She and her family left Lebanon on the promise of great opportunities and the hope of religious freedom,” Davis said, fully invested in the Apostle Mark’s assurance that “Everything is possible for one who believes.”
Learning a new country and language, raising a family of five, tending a sick spouse and building an innovative and respected career at Birmingham’s famous Parisian department store, “Mama understood what it meant to truly believe,” Davis said.
With her great grandmother’s lessons in her heart and a “laser-focused” life script, Davis found her identity in academic achievement and the expectations of others. The honors accumulated, and then she took a Criminal Law exam as she began her legal studies. She earned a “really, really poor grade–the kind of grade that knocked me out of contention for the summer clerking jobs that were part of my plan,” she said. The script fell apart.
“I remember having to let go of ego, which meant also having to let go of my plan,” Davis said. Looking back, she now sees that single grade as one of the best experiences of her life. “My failure opened doors for me to think differently about my remaining time in law school, about the approach to my career plans and, most importantly, my identity,” she said. “It gave me the freedom to take more risks, including seeking nontraditional career opportunities and, ultimately, finding my own voice in my own way.” It also led to once-in-a-lifetime opportunities, including being part of a US Supreme Court brief-writing team and helping to develop the economy of her home state.
“Don’t fear failure-it is a gift from God,” Davis said. “The setbacks, the mistakes, miscalculations and failures are all the very experiences that teach us how to be resourceful, persistent, innovative and resilient citizens of this world.”
Davis assured the graduates that Samford has prepared them well to meet the personal and professional challenges ahead. “So, be inspired and be empowered to be good and do good,” she told them. “Prepare to work hard and always love others as God has loved you, especially those who may not look like you, think like you or even pray like you.” Remember the faith of an immigrant woman and the track-jump of a first year law student, she said, and cultivate “a deep, intimate faith in a God that sustains you and enables you to be your own person.”