Samford University officially began the fall 2023 semester with the 182nd opening convocation on Aug. 22. In his third year as president, Beck A. Taylor gave the opening address where he announced faith as the theme for the 2023-24 academic year. In Taylor’s first year as president, he chose the theme of love and last year, he chose the theme of hope.
Taylor encouraged students, faculty and staff to embrace faith and to do so by placing one’s faith in God. To emphasize this, he read part of verse one from the 11th chapter of Hebrews, “faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.”
“Students, I’m persuaded that God has brought you to Samford, and that God’s deepest desire is to meet you here. So, have confidence, have faith, that you belong here. Have faith that you’re ready to tackle the challenges of studying at a premier institution of higher learning, of being away from home and loved ones, of being moved outside your comfort zones,” Taylor said. “And not just you students, but all of us, employees (faculty and staff members), trustees, and alumni, be confident that God is prompting us to fulfill his purposes in many areas of our lives, but certainly in and through our journeys here at Samford University. Have faith that God has called you here and is equipping you to do the things he has for you. Have faith.”
He also called on the Samford community to try to exercise faith in God in the unseen events that may have not yet taken place.
“Students, you are living this reality right now. So often, you feel the pressure to know what the future looks like. Parents want to know how you plan to parlay your major into a graduate degree or steady employment. You feel the pressure, particularly you juniors and seniors, to tell a story about how God is preparing you for something special, even when you don’t yet know all of the chapters of that story,” Taylor said. “It's okay to not know, to not have an answer to all the questions right now. But here is something you can be sure of, and that is to exercise faith is to be sure that God is working in the details, even when you don’t perceive it – that God is writing those future chapters of your life, even now.”
For the university as a whole, he asked the entire community to have faith in God’s plans for Samford.
“Through thick and thin, from seasons of scant enrollment to times like now when we are busting at our seams, through war and pandemic, and across three geographic homes, God has blessed this community. We see it. We know it. So, let’s have the faith, Samford, to know that God will bless our future,” Taylor proclaimed. “Those blessings may not always come in the form of championship trophies – in fact, it may come through defeat. God’s blessings may not always look like record enrollment, or a new recreation center. But faith will show us that God is working in and through this campus and its people to deliver upon God’s plans.”
Prior to his address, Taylor recognized the multitude of accomplishments achieved by students and faculty last year by pointing to a display of awards and trophies on stage. These included the five trophies won by the nationally ranked Samford Debate Team, a first-place award earned by Samford’s A Cappella Choir at the prestigious CantaRode International Choir Festival, and the 11 Southern Conference championships earned last year by the Bulldogs.
Later in the service, three employees were recognized for their outstanding work and service to the university.
Gretchen Sexton received the Bill Nunnelley Award, which recognizes outstanding job performance by a non-faculty employee whose work regularly and consistently exceeds expectations and reflects a high level of service, trustworthiness and respect. Sexton is the administrative assistant to the dean in Orlean Beeson School of Education.
Laura Byland received the John H. Buchanan Award. The award for excellence in classroom teaching is given annually to an outstanding member of the faculty. Byland is a professor of theatre and director of the Theatre for Youth program in the School of the Arts.
Brannon Denning received the Outstanding Faculty Scholarship Award, which recognizes sustained scholarly contributions to a faculty member’s discipline and the academy over the years. Denning is the Starnes Professor of Law at Cumberland School of Law.
New deans Dawn McCormack and Lance Beaumont were recognized during the service. McCormack, dean of Howard College of Arts and Sciences, provided the opening invocation, and Beaumont, dean of the School of the Arts, led the singing of the Alma Mater and offered the closing prayer of blessing.