Acknowledging his penchant for spontaneity, Samford University president Andrew Westmoreland called on a few students and a veteran staff member to help give his annual fall semester opening convocation address in Wright Center Tuesday, Aug. 27.
Although students Laura Ann Prickett, Micah Holloway, Josh Kimberlin and Hannah Barnette, and public relations head William A. Nunnelley knew they were on the program, they didn't know exactly what their interviewer would ask.
"I love to live dangerously, especially in front of a crowded room," quipped Dr. Westmoreland, who first called on Nunnelley, a Samford graduate who has worked at his alma mater for more than 40 years.
Noting that Nunnelley has the longest perspective of almost anybody at the university, Westmoreland sought his thoughts on changes at the school, his book on 1960s Birmingham police commissioner Bull Connor and what has compelled his long tenure.
"The most significant changes are the university's growth from an Alabama institution to a regional and national institution. It is much better known, now," said Nunnelley, who holds bachelor's and master's degrees from Samford.
Connor became his master's thesis topic, Nunnelley explained, because he needed a subject that could be researched locally. "And Bull Connor was the answer to that," said Nunnelley, whose many duties include editing Seasons alumni magazine. He also served a decade as sports information director.
He chose to attend Samford, Nunnelley said, partly because of its proximity, and as a high school student in Birmingham, he respected the school. He has stayed, he said, because of its good people, and the interesting work. "There is no shortage of that," said Nunnelley, who earlier in the program received the President's Award, which is given annually to a staff member for outstanding job performance.
Prickett, a political science major from Decatur, Ala., told of her experience as a Fulbright Summer Institute Scholar at the University of Bristol in the United Kingdom, where the topic was Slavery and the Atlantic Heritage. Her favorite aspect of the program, besides that her instructors were renowned anthropologists who had their own BBC show, was experiencing city life. "We rode buses, and walked a lot," said Prickett, a member of Samford's University Fellows program and among a select few chosen for the institute.
Holloway, an entering freshman, told about his lead-up to Samford, beginning in this 10th grade year at Birmingham's Woodlawn High School. There, participation in the "I Am My Brother's Keeper" program mentored by local executive Donta Wilson helped him develop spiritual and leadership skills. Holloway started a Bible study group that continues still. He engaged students both younger and older than he. "It was about getting them to know God and preaching the gospel," said the pre-business major.
Kimberlin, a sport administration major from Olive Branch, Miss., told how a "normal afternoon" in a local Walmart turned into a ministering opportunity. Noticing a man with a limp in the pharmacy line, the Samford football player introduced himself and asked the customer if he could pray with him. "I prayed for the man and his hip," said Kimberlin, who believes in "being the hands and feet of Christ and showing God's love, whether at Walmart or elsewhere."
Westmoreland learned of the prayerful encounter when the appreciative man emailed him about the student's actions.
Barnette, an education major from Birmingham, discussed her summer work at Terra Nova Academy in Kampala, Uganda. First drawn to the school through a video shown at Step Sing, which adopted Terra Nova as its 2013 charity, Barnette said her favorite memories include the teaching she did and the home visits she made. The parents are grateful that their children can receive excellent education at a price that families can afford, said Barnette, who believes that "a child's quality of education should not be determined by the level of household income."
The convocation also included introduction of student leaders who will be engaged in a variety of organizations this school year, and acknowledgment of more than 30 Samford Founders Circle members in attendance.
The Founders Circle honors donors who have supported the university for at least 35 years, many for 40 or more. Their combined gifts over the years exceed $18 million, said provost and executive vice president Dr. J. Bradley Creed.
Associate professor of English Julie Sims Steward received the John H. Buchanan Award for excellence in classroom teaching.
Beeson Divinity Convocation
Beeson divinity dean Dr. Timothy George urged students, especially those beginning their first year at the school, to heed Paul's words in Philippians that encourage forgetting those things which are behind, and pressing on toward the prize ahead.
The irony is that sometimes Paul talks about remembering, said George. "One thing to not forget is your calling , and you new students are here in response to God's calling in your life," said George, advising them to not constantly look back at what is already done.
"Yesterday's victory will not suffice for tomorrow's battle. The future is ahead of you and Jesus Christ will never let you down," said George.
George called the new students Beeson's first class of "post-millennials," recognizing that in May Beeson graduated its 1,000th student as it also celebrated the 25th anniversary of its founding.
"You are the first students admitted beyond that milestone," said George, noting that this class is diverse with many denominations represented and an age range from 22 to 71. The class includes students who are directly out of undergraduate school as well as doctors, lawyers and other professionals.
The Beeson convocation also included service of the Holy Communion.