On Saturday, May 8, at 10 a.m., Samford University held its final 2021 commencement for graduates of Brock School of Business, Howard College of Arts and Sciences, Orlean Beeson School of Education and School of the Arts.
To allow for social distancing, the ceremony took place in Seibert Stadium with graduates and their guests in attendance. 533 graduates received their degree, among them was 78 year old Vivian Cunningham. Brock School of Business conferred 145 bachelor’s and 42 master’s degrees. Orlean Beeson School of Education had 101 graduates: 78 bachelor’s, 13 master’s and 10 doctoral degrees. Howard College had 183 graduates: 176 bachelor’s and seven master’s. School of the Arts had 62 graduates: 60 bachelor’s and 2 master’s.
Julia Sisk, a Brock Scholar majoring in economics and sociology, was the recipient of the John C. Pittman Spirit Award which is presented annually at Samford’s spring commencement to an undergraduate student who has demonstrated exceptional academic and Christian commitment while engaging in campus life.
A December 2020 Howard College of Arts and Sciences physics major and University Fellow Stephanie Westaway received the President’s Cup, awarded to the graduating student with the highest undergraduate grade point average across all Samford colleges and schools.
Robert Millican, also a December 2020 graduate from Orlean Beeson School of Education majoring in organizational leadership, received the Velma Irons Award as the graduating student with the second highest undergraduate GPA across all Samford colleges and schools.
The ceremony included parting words by Hope Dawson, SGA President, scripture readings by Bradyn Debysingh and Anna Medley, music by Samford’s A Cappella Choir shared via video, and remarks by recently retired faculty member Jennings Marshall. University President Andrew Westmoreland served as the commencement speaker and delivered it with his well-known humor and humility.
Westmoreland, who will retire as the university’s 18th president at the end of the academic year, spoke at three of Samford’s commencement ceremonies this spring. Over the course of the three commencements, he imparted nine lessons, three at each ceremony.
“These nine points reflect the things I have tried to understand over the 42 years of my career in higher education. They are incredibly simple yet difficult to follow. Remember, as I mention them to you this morning, I am preaching to myself, as well as you,” he said.
Lesson Number One: I need to respect everyone.
Westmoreland noted that he had shared this point at a prior commencement but realized the impact of such a simple message. “We don’t have to agree with everybody because that would be incredibly boring, but offering respect to everyone, without regard of whether that respect is returned, is maintaining an open door to civilization. Someone has to take the first step. As Christ-followers, that first step should be ours.”
Lesson Number Two: I need to take a walk when I’m stressed, even if it is raining and—perhaps—especially if it is raining.
“A few hundred times over the past 15 years when the walls were closing in on me and the meetings and problems just wouldn’t stop, I have stood up, walked away from my desk and circled the Quad. Fifteen minutes and three or four conversations later, my spirit was soaring again and I had answers that had previously eluded me,” said Westmoreland.
Lesson Number Three: I need to remember to trust the Lord with all my heart and lean not on my own understanding.
Westmoreland claimed this as “his life’s verse” from Proverbs 3:5. He went on to note that “arrogance is a rather massive problem and the best way I know to counteract it is to trust in the Lord with all my heart and realize that I don’t have all the answers—and that the same truth applies to everyone else.”
The collection of commencement lessons included these additional six points:
I need to listen carefully.
I need to guard and limit my own speech, spoken or written.
I need to extend grace to others, even if I feel I have not received grace from them.
I need to apologize- quickly and without qualifying conditions – when I have been wrong or have hurt someone.
I need to recognize that the loneliness I sometimes feel is actually shared by everyone.
I need to find happiness in the fleeting moments of the day.
In his conclusion, on what he called “a field of dreams,” Westmoreland encouraged the graduates to remember these lessons. “Do these things and when you are old, your lives will be fulfilled, your families will be happier and maybe, just maybe, the world will be better for it.”
He added a personal note to the graduating class. As a newly designated alumni honoris causa by Samford’s Board of Trustees, he said, “Affiliation with Samford is the greatest honor of my life and I will remember forever the blessing of graduating with the Samford Class of 2021.”