Posted by William Nunnelley on 2011-05-14

The world is full of people representing three groups—observers, those fearful of venturing out and those eager to make a difference, Lebanese denominational leader and educator Nabil K. Costa told Samford University graduates Saturday, May 14.

            Costa, executive director of the Lebanese Baptist Society, said observers are content to sit back, relax and watch life pass them by.  He quoted Thomas Edison, who said, “Opportunity is missed by most people because it is dressed in overalls and looks like work.”

            Fearful people, he said, “are interested in what goes on, but are too afraid to venture there themselves.

            “A third group—which I hope you are a part of—is made up of people who are eager to set out and make a difference, ready to pay the price,” Costa told the seniors.

            The Middle Eastern religion leader addressed an audience of more than 5,000 in Samford’s Pete Hanna Center. Graduates from Samford’s largest school, the Howard College of Arts and Sciences, received diplomas, along with seniors from its School of the Arts and Orlean Bullard Beeson School of Education and Professional Studies—432 in all.

            A total of more than 400 other graduates received degrees during commencement programs for its business, law, nursing and pharmacy schools Friday, May 13, and its divinity school May 4.

            Costa, a former businessman called to full-time ministry in 1998, was awarded an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters by Samford during the ceremony.  In presenting the degree, Samford President Andrew Westmoreland described Costa as “a leading humanitarian in a strife-torn part of the world.”   Costa is general secretary of an association of evangelical Christian schools enrolling about 25,000 students in Lebanon, and recently was elected a vice president of the Baptist World Alliance.

            “God is doing amazing things in our region, and is calling on us—and you—to be prepared for the colossal work that needs to be met,” Costa said.  He told the graduates that they, as Christians, have what the rest of the world needs.

            “As you follow God’s leading, should He give you a heart for our part of the world, know that there are incredible opportunities awaiting you,” he said.

            Costa said Christians are making a difference in the Middle East.  “Don’t underestimate the impact of a small amount of yeast on a large loaf of bread!” he said.

            While Christianity represents only 5 percent of the population, Costa noted that evangelical Christians are leading peacemaking endeavors between Palestine and Israel, that one-third of men and women trained at the Lebanese Christian seminary were from non-Christian backgrounds, and that 70 percent of the students in Lebanese evangelical Christian schools are from non-Christian backgrounds.

            “The Middle East has its share of challenges,” he acknowledged.  “We can either focus on the formidable circumstances and become discouraged, or look within those circumstances for opportunities to touch lives and make a difference.  We choose the latter.”

            Samford recognized its top student award winners at the close of the program.  Kathryn Elise Ormsbee of Lexington, Ky., and Hugh Anthony Smith of Columbia, Tenn., received the President’s Cup for the highest academic average.  Christopher Davis Fite of Decatur, Ala., received the Velma Wright Irons Award for the second highest average.  Jennifer Wrenne Taylor of Indianapolis, Ind., received the John C. Pittman Spirit Award.

            Dr. James A. Jensen, who is retiring from the School of the Arts after 43 years on the faculty, led the academic procession as Mace Bearer.  He and Dr. G. William Bugg, also retiring after 33 years on the School of the Arts faculty, were recognized for their service by Provost and Executive Vice President J. Bradley Creed.


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.