“The Bridge … to the Path … to the Top”

Presidential Convocation Address
Huntingdon College Montgomery, Alabama
August 31, 2016
The College’s 163rd Academic Year

Good afternoon, and, “Hawk ‘Em!”

Well, first year students, entering class: This one’s for you. This speech is for you. Everyone else is here to listen in while I talk with you.

Have you figured it out yet? Have you figured out what college is all about? You…and every other first year college student in America…are on a bridge between your former life and this new life called college. And as with every other first year college student on that bridge, there are some new things to figure out. Where do I park, and when, to avoid parking tickets? What days are days not to miss in the DH? How do I kick my roommate’s date out of my room after 2:30 in the morning? (Spoiler alert in case you have a clueless roommate: You say, “Leave!”)

And then there are the really crucial questions to figure out: What place off campus has the best Mexican? Or the cheapest Mexican? And everything else that goes along with the best or cheapest Mexican? How much of my assigned reading should I do for tomorrow’s class? (And the correct answer, Mr. Provost, is????) All of it! Should I get up and go to church on Sunday now that I don’t have my parents telling me they want the whole family sitting together at the 11:00 service? Do I really want to go back to my high school home football game this weekend? After all, they probably don’t want to see me any more than I wanted to see college students at football games when I was a high school senior. Going back is so…high school.

So much to figure out during these first few weeks, standing on the bridge between your former life and your new life. So much you have in common with the thousands and thousands of other new students at other schools who are standing on that bridge with you. And soon, you and all those other new students at all those other schools will be taking the next step. You will be walking off that bridge onto the path that all college students walk.

The path where you decide whether or not you want to be in a sorority or a fraternity. The path where you take mid-term tests. The path where you start to think about what classes you will be taking next semester and whether you want to take a class from this professor or that

professor. The path where you make a decision about a major or decide to put off the decision another semester. The path where you decide to stay with that high school boyfriend or girlfriend…or not.
Each of you, I hope and trust, is registered to vote and will vote in the presidential election on November 8. I can still remember wanting to vote in the presidential election my first year of college. Eighteen year olds did not have the right to vote when I was a college freshman. You do! And each of you, I hope and trust, will take the privilege and responsibility of being an American citizen so seriously that — if you have not yet decided for whom you will vote — you will take that step and walk down that path with thousands of other students and educate yourself about the candidates.

Finally, you will begin to walk along the path with thousands and thousands of other students and start thinking about what you are supposed to do with the rest of your life. What your career should be, what it means to live a life that matters, what it means to reach the top of your profession if that, indeed, is what you want to do.

The bridge: Each first year college student walks onto it and stands on it. The path: Each entering college student takes the next step, crosses that bridge and walks that path. The
top: What student doesn’t want to walk that path until he or she reaches the top — graduation –
– and then another top — first job or graduate school — and then still another top — excellence in your profession? As new, and unusual, and difficult right now as college may seem to some…to many…of you, there are thousands and thousands of other students who are going through so much of what you are going through. You have so much in common with so many new college students at so many other schools.

Except for one thing: You are a new student at Huntingdon. That makes you rare and
unique. You are rare and unique because you have been chosen, and have chosen, to be part of the entering class at a college that is rare and unique among the 4000 other schools that wanted you to choose them. You are rare and unique because you have chosen to say, “Yes,” to that Huntingdon invitation. You are rare and unique because you are choosing, day after day and night after night at Huntingdon, to begin falling in love…bit by bit…with this rare and unique school. And as a very, very old religious tradition teaches us: We are shaped most by what we love most. We become what we love. You are what you love.

So as you fall more and more in love with this rare and unique college, you will yourself become more and more rare and unique. Who, in this world where there is so much sameness, would not want to be rare and unique? Who would not want stand out!?! Who would not want to have, “Hawk ‘Em,” as your college cheer instead of a cheer…or two…that everyone has known for years, has been yelling for years, and is still yelling? (The Tide Rolls in, the Tide Rolls out; the Eagle screams for War.) Who would not want to reach the top of life and say that what the top of life is all about is living it like the rare and unique men and women I am getting ready to tell you about?

Chasi Fowler Skinner, Huntingdon Class of 2008, came to Huntingdon from her hometown Dothan as the President of Alabama Girls State and then served as President of the Huntingdon Student Body. Chasi was also a Huntingdon cheerleader. She could have opted for a glamorous, prestigious path toward a career in the political world. Instead, as an emergency room doctor at Orlando Medical Center this summer, Chasi tended the wounded and dying on that frightening night and day when 49 people were murdered in a nightclub.

Chasi Fowler Skinner, Huntingdon Class of 2008, is rare and unique.

Berrell Cobb, Huntingdon Class of 2013, came to Huntingdon from Phenix City. He worked his way through Huntingdon in four years as a waiter 40 hours a week, then worked his way through graduate school as a waiter 40 hours a week to earn a Master’s in Clinical Psychology. Yes, and besides going to school full time for seven years and working full time for seven years, Berrell also found time along the path to volunteer every week in prison ministry. “‘Lord, when did we see you…in prison and visit you?’ Then the king will reply to them, ‘I assure you that when you have done it for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you have done it for me.'” (Matthew 25.39-40)

Berrell Cobb, Huntingdon Class of 2013, is rare and unique.

Wade Whatley, Huntingdon Class of 2006, came to Huntingdon from a little town in the Alabama Wiregrass, Skipperville, to play baseball and to study science. Wade graduated from UAB Dental School at the top of his class and had the opportunity to join a lucrative and prestigious dental practice in Birmingham immediately after graduating. Instead, he took the far riskier path of returning to the Wiregrass and opening a solo practice in a small town, Abbeville, that needed a dentist, many miles away from the instant money and bright lights of the big city.

Wade Whatley, Huntingdon Class of 2006, is rare and unique.

Louis Hines, Huntingdon Class of 2013, came to Huntingdon from his native Florida Panhandle to play soccer. Along the path at Huntingdon, he decided to become an elementary school teacher in the Alabama public school system. Louis is not from a wealthy family and has himself entered a profession that is not what we would call high paying. Yet, three years ago when he walked across Top Stage, he established an endowed scholarship which next year will begin supporting a Huntingdon College student. Maybe one of you.

Louis Hines, Huntingdon Class of 2013, is rare and unique.

All of these Huntingdon College alumni, while they were walking the path as college
students, fell in love with their rare and unique college. While they were here, they grew more and more to be rare and unique human beings. Adults who sacrifice their lives day in and day out by taking responsibility for the well being of others. Adults who measure “reaching the top” in their lives not by counting what others have been doing or should be doing for them but, instead, by counting what they are doing day in and day out to ease pain, give hope, guarantee futures. Chasi, Berrell, Wade, Louis entered this college as you have entered it, stood on that bridge between their past and their future, began walking the path that all college students walk, and then along that path fell in love with Huntingdon…and at this rare and unique college were shaped to begin living rare and unique lives.

We are what we love.

I told you their stories and could tell you hundreds and hundreds more just like them that I have watched unfold in the 14 years I have been privileged to deliver this speech…in this chapel…from this stage. These stories are all about young women and men just like you. They have gone on to be public and private school teachers; university professors and researchers; coaches; small business owners; sales representatives; insurance agents; lawyers and judges; legislative lobbyists; city council members; pastors; youth ministers; music ministers; band and choral directors; social workers; doctors, dentists, veterinarians, pharmacists; nurses; physician assistants; physical therapists and athletic trainers; speech therapists; occupational therapists; accountants and finance officers; bankers; counselors; college administrators; firefighters; law enforcement officers; military officers; engineers; unpaid community volunteers and civic leaders; mothers; fathers.

These stories all have one feature in common. The star of each story is rare and unique and is rare and unique because he, she, does not see himself, herself, as a star. He, she, sees himself, herself, as a servant, one who entered Huntingdon for whatever reason; who along the path here grew in wisdom; and who as a student and then as an adult came to see that wisdom is all about learning how to give one’s life to and for someone else. To be responsible for someone else. To sacrifice something important so that someone else, who has nothing important, may have something important. That’s rare and unique in our world. It takes a rare and unique college to build that kind of person. Jesus called, and still calls, that kind of person great. And now, my friends, you are part of this rare, unique, great place. Among all American college students, you are truly blessed.

And all the people said: “Hawk ‘Em!”

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