category: President's Remarks

2021 Fall Academic Convocation

Why Not Us, Why Not Gardner-Webb?

Faculty and Students of Gardner-Webb University, you really are a wonderful sight for sore eyes! 

We didn’t get to do this last year.  But today, thanks to the grace and glory of God, we are together again in this special place, celebrating the start of a new academic year.  And, I for one, am extremely grateful. 

If you are new to Gardner-Webb, you’ve been welcomed and oriented pretty thoroughly over the last week. 

If you were with us last year and are returning to Gardner-Webb, you’ve also been welcomed back quite thoroughly…we’ve had a faculty assembly, we’ve Worshipped at the Webb, we’ve had a Connect Fair, last night we had an amazing speaker from FCA talk to our student-athletes…and now, to finish it all off, we have Convocation. 

Convocation is a calling together, a summoning, or a convening.  It is a time-honored academic tradition at most universities, including our own. 

And Convocation gives me the opportunity to give you a brief message…a message of thanks, a message of encouragement…and a message of action, indeed a call to action.  Parts of my message today will be quite serious…some of it a bit heavy.  But I promise that we will end on a light and loud note!   

Thank Our Faculty

Let’s begin with a message of thanks.  And the object of my appreciation is the relationship between the two groups assembled here today.

Students, that means I want to speak to you about our faculty. 

At Gardner-Webb we are indeed very fortunate.  We aspire to world-class instruction.  We promise world-class instruction.  And that doesn’t happen just by hoping for it.  To give you world-class instruction, we have to have dedicated, innovative, and inspirational teachers.  And at Gardner-Webb, we do!

We have faculty with impressive academic pedigrees who actually care about the success of their students (and that doesn’t happen everywhere).

We have scholars and practitioners who go the extra mile not just to teach their students but to mentor their students, to coach their students, to listen to their students. 

In short, we have a talented and helpful group of professors…who work every day to ensure your success.

So, to all of the faculty assembled here today, I say thank you. 

  • Thank you for your expertise. 
  • Thank you for the energy and passion you bring to the classroom. 
  • Thank you for the paths that you illuminate and the journeys you guide…not only the path to graduation, but also the path to a meaningful life.

And to you, our students, I want you to know that these faculty are here for you.  We are all here for YOU.  And together we welcome you to this new academic year. 

[Students, I ask you to join me in a round of applause for our faculty.]

Students, your return to campus energizes all of us.  We are excited to work with you and to watch you grow and succeed.

And as we stand here on the precipice of the first full week of the Fall semester, I could try to encourage you by saying the obvious…study hard, make good choices, get involved.

Probably every university president or chancellor across the country is using those words this week:  study hard, make good choices, get involved. 

But I’d like to go beyond the obvious, and let’s spend a little time this morning doing something else.

Let’s think a little bit about the year 2025.

2025

Some of you here today are part of the Class of 2025.  You’re just now starting your college journey.  We want this to be the most rewarding four years of your life.  Some of you will finish sooner, some later.  But for all of us I think we should take a moment for the following ponderable…What will life look like in 2025?

Now, you might think, that’s just four short years from now…not that much can change.  But think back in time to four years ago…2017.

In 2017:

  • Probably none of us had ever heard of COVID or Coronavirus
  • In 2017, we weren’t using this thing called Zoom to interact with other humans
  • In 2017, a businessman named Trump was in the White House
  • The Number 1 Google search was “Hurricane Irma”
  • “The Big Bang Theory” was still on TV
  • Ed Sheeran had the Number 1 single in America,
  • A gallon of gas cost $2.41, and
  • The Atlanta Falcons, yes the Atlanta Falcons, were in the Super Bowl.

A lot, I mean a lot, can change in four years.

So, as we sit here today, let’s project a bit into the future:

  • What’s the workplace going to look like in 2025?…when you take that first job after graduation, will you be working in an office or will you be dialing it in from home in your pajamas?
  • What about technology?  How small will our phones get?  How big will our watches be and what will they able to do?  How will we shop?  How will we date? (and by “we” I mean you).  Will we still read books?  And if so, will we be able to read them while our cars drive us around town?
  • Will the traditional family as the core of society be strengthened or further weakened?
  • Will we be at peace or at war?
  • Will the gaps between rich and poor be larger or smaller?
  • Will the increasing diversity of our society lead us to greater cooperation or to heightened tensions?
  • What will the rest of the world think about us here in the United States?  Will America still be a shining city on a hill, a beacon to the world?
  • What about our Christian faith?  Will the church grow, or will it decline?

2025.  Just four short years.

The crystal ball is always murky, but my point in gazing into it is to encourage you…to encourage all of us…to take a little ownership of our future.  To write our own story.  To actively shape our destiny, rather than to passively await it.

As Winston Churchill is said to have observed, ‘Americans will always do the right thing, but only after they have tried everything else.’  [REPEAT]

Cut to the chase, my friends, and do the right thing first.  As college students, as college graduates, as faculty and staff, let’s do the right thing first. 

Why are you here?

College is, in part, about obtaining the right skills, knowledge, and understanding to do the right thing.

We’re all here to help figure out what the right thing is. 

Students, why are you here?  Recent study by Federal Reserve Bank of New York concluded that Americans with a bachelor’s degree earned on average 75% more each year than those with only a high school diploma.  That’s the “college wage premium.” 

Why are you here?  Marketability, access to job opportunities, ability to specialize in particular career skills, pathway to advancement, employment security…But is that why you are really here?

The evidence shows that college graduates are happier and lead healthier, longer lives than those who didn’t go to college.

Public opinion surveys show that college graduates have greater life satisfaction…

They are more likely to be civically engaged and influence their communities…

College graduates are able to actively produce new knowledge, not just consume knowledge that others give them

College graduates know how to peacefully coexist with one another in an increasingly diverse world

College graduates make positive and lasting differences in the lives of others…they make an impact.

If the college experience transforms regular people into thinkers, and doers, and world-changers, then why not us?  Why not the people in this arena.  Why not Gardner-Webb?

Why Not Us?

We live in a divided society and a broken world…humanity needs healers, uniters, and peacemakers. 

Why not us?  Who among us will stand up and step up?  The world needs more Gardner-Webb.  More of our nurses and health care professionals, more of our educators, our counselors, our pastors…Let us be the solution.   

We live in a time of fear…humanity cries out for those who would give comfort and instill confidence.  Why not us?  The world needs more Gardner-Webb. 

We live in an era of pathogens and pandemics…humanity needs researchers who can harness the power of science to cure and to prevent.  When the world searches for answers, why not us?  Our biologists, our chemists, our physicists…

We live in a community where children go hungry, where shops are closed, where parents struggle to pay the bills.  Where prosperity is elusive, why isn’t it Gardner-Webb that steps in to find the solutions.  Our College of Business should be front and center in the effort to grow economic development in our own backyard.

Why not us…

At Gardner-Webb we have a perpetual call to service.  Our call is to serve God and Humanity.  I ask you to hear that call and to act on it.   

If we want to improve the health of our communities…if we want to make those communities more prosperous and better educated…and if we want to serve the spiritual health of Cleveland County, or western North Carolina and beyond…then who better than Gardner-Webb University to do the heavy lifting.  It rests on us, my friends…it rests on Gardner-Webb.  For God and Humanity…that’s our mission, and that’s our charge.

Our university was founded 116 years ago by people with vision who wanted to lift up those around them.  Ladies and gentlemen, every one of us in here has inherited that noble mission. 

When I think about our call to service, I often think about one of my favorite Christian hymns….a song popular across many denominations, written in 1981 and titled, “Here I am, Lord.”  The lyrics may be familiar to some of you:

Here I am, Lord
Is it I, Lord?
I have heard You calling in the night
I will go, Lord
If You lead me
I will hold Your people in my heart

Here we are, Lord.  Choose us.  Choose Gardner-Webb.

Wrap

So, in the academic year ahead, of course I want you all to have fun…to enjoy each other and to enjoy your time here. 

  • Pancake Bingo, the Webbies, and football at Spangler Stadium…
  • But remember…always remember…that gifted people have great responsibility.  As our Bible tells us, “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded.”

One demand on all of us in the coming year is to stay vigilant about this pandemic that has yet to go away.

There’s the famous line from the old movie Wizard of Oz:   “There’s no place like home.”  This is our home.  This is our family.  Whether for one semester, one year, four years, or a career…this is our home.  History teaches us that people will fight most ferociously to protect their family and their home.  That’s what we need to do this year.  That’s what I will ask you to do.  We will do whatever it takes to keep this place open and to keep you on track for success.

So, there’s my message to you today:

  1. We should be thankful for our faculty.
  2. Take ownership of your destiny for the next four years.
  3. Answer the call to service.
  4. Protect our home and our university family.

Fight Song and Bo

OK, everybody, I want you to have a great semester…a great academic year.  And here’s how we are going to close Convocation.    

We’re bringing back an old tradition and making it new again.  We recently rediscovered the lyrics to the Gardner-Webb fight song.  Everybody’s got a fight song, and we do, too…but nobody signs along because the lyrics were literally lost in the archives for years. 

So, with thanks to Josh Cheney and our concert choir we’re going to close by signing the GWU fight song. 

What’s a fight song without a mascot?  If I can get a really loud ‘Sko Dawgs, we might be able to get Bo to join us on stage for the fight song…

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