Posted by Mary Wimberley on 2007-08-29

Samford University president Andrew Westmoreland challenged students to embrace change, take courage and find compassion as they begin their fall semester studies.

Dr. Westmoreland based his remarks at Tuesday's opening convocation of the fall semester on a "verse fragment" from I Peter 4:3 that advises, "You have spent enough time in the past."

The context of the passage is that if you've been redeemed, start acting that way, said Dr. Westmoreland.

"Perhaps you're living in a past that you need to move beyond," he said.

He asked his wife, Dr. Jeanna Westmoreland, to help tell how they decided to leave the security of their lives at Ouachita University in Arkansas to take the Samford presidency in 2006.

When she accused him of running from God in the decision process, their prayers for guidance changed having from a tone of resistance to one of willingness to follow God's will.

"If you're going to move beyond the past, you must embrace change," said Westmoreland, who is beginning his second academic year as Samford president after many years as student and administrator at the Arkansas school. "We had to step out of our comfort zone and embrace change."

After embracing change for the long haul, he advised, take courage. "Moving from where we want to be is no easy task," he said.

Samford sophomore Chelsea Reynolds of Gulf Breeze, Fla., told of her personal need for of courage after a rare neurological disorder left her paralyzed and wheelchair bound five years ago.

"I made a conscious decision to take courage. I had to hold onto God's faithfulness and God's promises," said Reynolds, who was told by one doctor said she would likely not walk again.

Now recovered and in remission from the ailment, she has shared her story of hope with thousands of people worldwide through an article she wrote for Guideposts magazine, and in speeches to large groups.

"Whatever you're going through, put your full faith in God and take courage," she advised.

Dr. Westmoreland noted that everyone doesn't embrace change and find courage on the same timetable.

"Sometimes we become so self-righteous and smug that we forget about people around us. We must find compassion," he urged.

Dr. James Smisek, director of Samford bands, shared a story from the band trip to last fall's Georgia Tech football game in Atlanta, Ga. On the tiring, return trip to Birmingham, an empty fuel tank on the band's equipment truck caused an unexpected and annoying stop for gas at a convenience store off I-20.

"When the woman behind the counter saw that we were from Samford, she asked for prayer," said Smisek, who learned that the recent death of the woman's teenage was still difficult for her.

As the woman shared how the Holy Sprit had spoken to her when her son was Baptized shortly before his car accident, Smisek said, "I realized that the Lord had made these problems occur so that I could be there for this woman, and could pray for her."

When he returned to the bus, he shared the story with the band members, who all prayed for the woman.

The experience, said Smisek, underscored for him that "Samford is a symbol for two things: faith and compassion."

It is poignant, said Westmoreland, that the lady in a convenience store saw the Samford name and understood that it stood for something of eternal significance.

"We are called here to learn, and study and prepare to do important work beyond these gates," said Westmoreland. "We have spent enough time in the past. Let's move forward to be agents of change for a world in need."

The convocation also featured the naming of music professor Dr. Paul Richardson as winner of this year's John H. Buchanan Award for Excellence in Classroom Teaching, and the swearing-in of the 2007-08 student government officers.

SGA officers are president Rob Howell of Haleyville, vice presidents Sam McBride of Aliceville, Allyson Dewell of Mableton, Ga., Lee J. Ross, Jr., of Pelham, and Madeleine Mula of Mandeville, La.; chief of staff Patrick Baggett of Decatur, and chief justice Betsy Martin of Tupelo, Miss.

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.