Posted by Philip Poole on 2010-05-14

Samford University graduating students were encouraged to continue building on relationships established at Samford during a May 14 prayer breakfast that launched a full weekend of commencement activities.

About 300 graduating students were joined by Samford faculty and administrators for what Samford University President Andrew Westmoreland called “the most recent addition to Samford traditions.” 

The first-ever prayer breakfast continued a centuries-old tradition of providing a time of prayer, worship and reflection during Samford’s commencement activities, Westmoreland explained.

“I think it’s a good time to cherish some rich memories and to seek God’s guidance for the next phase of your lives,” Westmoreland said.

Noting that “many of you arrived at the same time that we did in the summer of 2006,” Westmoreland told the students, “We’ve learned our way around this place together.”

Following a morning-long theme on the importance of relationships, Westmoreland said, “We’ve shared a lot of experiences . . . and faced a lot of challenges in the last few years. Some of you have faced all kinds of significant issues. But, what I know more than anything else about this place is that the heart of this place is extraordinarily strong because of all the people who come in here to study, live, work, serve, give their lives to this place.”

Westmoreland talked about the unique relationship built between a university and its students. 

“When you walk across the stage, in some respects that is the end of the transaction. You pay a lot of your money to come here and get an education to receive the credential that allows you to go on with life,” he said. “I choose not to look on this enterprise in that way. But don’t ever believe that’s all it is.”

Referring to the faculty and staff, Westmoreland told the graduates, “You are surrounded in this room by those who are paid, not nearly as much as they deserve, but who are paid to teach you and mentor you. Truth be told, they don’t do it for the money. They do it because they love you.”

Looking to the future, he added, “I know enough about your stories to know that you are extraordinarily well-prepared for whatever you are going to face. I am reminded again about how hopeful I am about the future.

“We cherish these relationships and look forward to a lifetime of relationship with you.”

A series of student and faculty speakers spoke on the importance of friendships, scholarship and faith as part of the lifelong learning experience.

Using the story of biblical characters Jonathan and David as examples, graduating senior Jeremiah Chester said friendship is about selflessness.

“Friendship is about giving and not receiving. It’s a picture of vulnerability,” Chester said. “It’s about talking, about having tough conversations; it’s about meeting people from different perspectives, but being willing to be comfortable in our vulnerabilities. Even in our weakest points, that’s alright.”

Pharmacy graduate Emily Morris Hawes said, “I have loved Samford since the moment that I walked onto this campus. I’ll never forget the all-nighters, the late night Krispy Kreme runs and ‘capture the flag’ on the [University] Quadrangle.”

Hawes earned an undergraduate degree in 2006 from Samford before enrolling in Samford’s McWhorter School of Pharmacy. She reflected on both her personal friendships and relationships established with faculty and staff.

“Samford attracts such amazing people. Not only do you make lifelong friends, but friendships with professors also are encouraged,” Hawes said. “Samford faculty as a whole care about the welfare of the whole student. Samford provides each individual with a personal preparation that leads to lifelong friendships.

“Samford as it stands today came about because someone had a vision that has been built on relationships. That will continue to impact the lives of students in the future, just like it has for you and me.”

The comic strip “Pearls Before Swine” provided the “scholarly” application for faculty member Bridget Rose, who teaches in Samford’s core curriculum and directs the new academic success center.

“Despite all the great texts that line the walls of my office and that I use in my classes, I settled on a comic strip for ‘pearls of wisdom.’ At the end, Pig says, ‘Ignoring reality is the next best thing to changing it.’”

Rose encouraged the graduates not to be afraid to affect change in what they do in the future.

“Moving beyond the easy answers and the preferred answers is what scholarship has been about for me,” Rose said. “Wrestle with those shades of gray in your life. Being educated means learning to listen to others and remember that, after all, we can still change the world.”

Carol Ann Vaughn Cross, who also teaches in the core curriculum, said the question that her students most wanted to ask the graduates was “Is it worth it?” 

“Only you can determine the answer to that question, of course,” she said. “Only you can determine the value of what you have learned at Samford.”

Cross also stressed the importance of developing strong relationships now and in the future.

“Genuine scholarship occurs in the community, not in a vacuum,” she explained. “It is found in relationships. Your university expects you to share the thoughts and insights that only you can share.”

Cross told the students that they are part of “a great generation. What I have seen from your class is very encouraging. You have inspired me with your questions, your imagination, your courage, your compassion, your humanity. I am very confident that you will find multiple ways to make it very, very much worth it.”

Law professor David Smolin told the students that his journey was little different because he became a Christian in college and that it was important to “be stable in an unstable world.”

When he became a Christian and prepared to graduate from college, “it became very apparent to me that there were a lot of tasks that I still needed to accomplish,” Smolin said. “The first thing was that faith meant that we needed to be sure of what we were doing. We needed to understand that our faith was in God, not in the older generation, in our friends or in ourselves. We needed to be stable in our faith.

“The fundamentals are about two things: you have to figure out what it is that you can do. You need to be of service to the world rather than expecting the world to serve you.”

Graduating student Ben Telfair, who served as University Ministries student president during his senior year, used the parable of the mustard seed to illustrate the importance of growing an individual’s faith.

The mustard seed is the smallest of all the seeds, Telfair explained.

“The parallel is that I am the mustard seed,” he said. “The beauty of a place like Samford is that it is a beautiful place, soil where we can grow in our faith. God used community to grow a small mustard seed like myself.”

“It’s important that I allowed God to grow and prune me through my friends and my professors.  That’s why we grow into such beauty. It’s never too late. Even if we think we have failed. We can continue through this beautiful process. My prayer is that we continue to learn.”

Following the breakfast, graduating students processed from Harwell G. Davis Library through Centennial Walk, replicating the traditional “freshman walk” during new student orientation and the “senior walk” that formerly preceded baccalaureate. The prayer breakfast replaced the baccalaureate service, but the students said they did not want to lose the tradition of the “senior walk.”

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. The Wall Street Journal ranks Samford 1st nationally for student engagement and U.S. News & World Report ranks Samford 66th in the nation for best undergraduate teaching and 104th nationally for best value. Samford enrolls 5,683 students from 47 states and 19 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.