category: President's Remarks

2022 Fall Academic Convocation

Surround Yourself With Success

Good morning, everyone.  It is really, really good to see you all. 

I’m excited that we are here.  I’m grateful that we are together.  I hope you had a good first week of classes, and I hope you’re ready for a strong and successful semester. 

Ladies and gentlemen, I am eager to see all that we can accomplish during the academic year ahead, and I just want to spend a few minutes this morning encouraging you to make the most of the opportunities that await you.

Faculty recognitions

There’s no better way to begin my remarks than by congratulating Professor Garlock for her well-deserved recognition as an outstanding teacher. 

Outstanding teachers are not just effective classroom lecturers.  They mentor.  They advise.  They inspire.  Their impact can be felt throughout a career and throughout a life. 

So, thank you to Professor Garlock…and thank you to all of the Gardner-Webb University faculty. 

  • Thank you, faculty, for your daily demonstrations of expertise. 
  • Thank you, faculty, for the energy, dedication, passion and compassion you bring to the classroom and to the entire teaching enterprise. 
  • And thank you, faculty, for the paths you illuminate for our students…not only the path to graduation but also the path to a meaningful life.

Students, if you would, please join me in an enthusiastic round of applause for our faculty!

We are Blessed to Be Here

Alright, so here we are.  Week 2 of the academic year.  Convocation is a time for us to formally launch the year ahead…to remind ourselves of why we are here…and to issue each other a set of challenges that will help give us purpose and direction in the months to come.

Now, let’s think for a moment of where we are.  And I mean physically where we are.  It was on or about this place 117 years ago that some people from two local Baptist associations came together for a common purpose.  In 1905 they created Boiling Springs High School as a place “where the young…could have the best possible educational advantages under distinctive Christian influence.” 

Then, in 1928, Boiling Springs High School became Boiling Springs Junior College.

In 1942 the school was renamed Gardner-Webb Junior College to honor both O. Max Gardner, who had served with distinction as North Carolina’s 57th governor…and his wife Faye Webb-Gardner.

By 1971, Gardner-Webb Junior College became Gardner-Webb College, and then in 1993 Gardner-Webb College became Gardner-Webb University.

As we start this semester, Fall 2022, Gardner-Webb University is home to 3,200 students at the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral levels. 

  • Our students come from 91 of North Carolina’s 100 counties, from 44 US states, and from 45 foreign countries (in a one-stoplight town we have 108 students from 45 foreign countries!  That’s awesome!). 
  • We have 603 NCAA Division-I student athletes across 22 teams. 
  • We have more than 36,000 living alumni spread out literally across the globe.  They are thinkers, doers, and world-changers. 
  • We have more than 80 academic degree programs across five colleges and schools…and we just had our newest degree program approved yesterday for a January 2023 launch (MPA10).
  • We now also have…Starbucks.  Can I get a woo-hoo?

This place that today we call Gardner-Webb University has come a long way over the years, and you are here to help us write the next chapter in its great story…and we are here to help you write the next chapter in your great story.

I’d say we are pretty darn blessed to be here.  Gardner-Webb isn’t perfect.  Boiling Springs isn’t perfect.  But I wouldn’t trade our challenges here for what the rest of the world is deals with on a daily basis. 

You are college students in a safe college town being taught by professors who care about you and being served by a professional staff that wants you to be successful, happy, and healthy. 

  • Yes, sometimes the Wi-Fi can be spotty…we’re working on that. 
  • And, yes, I know Zoca ran out of burritos one night last week…and we’re working on that one, too.

But, folks, I want to stress how blessed we are to be living and studying and working at a place called Gardner-Webb.  If you take a moment and peer outside our bubble, you’ll see that it’s a pretty crazy and a deeply divided world out there.

  • 11.4% of all Americans now fall officially below the poverty line
  • 5.7M working age Americans are unemployed…they want to work, they’re looking for work, but they don’t have jobs
  • Inflation hit a 40-year high this summer when it reached 9.1%
  • Political rhetoric in Washington and around the country shows no signs of healing our polarized society.
  • Outside the United States, we know that tens of thousands of people have died in a nasty war in the Ukraine as well as in other wars across the globe.
  • 14% of the world’s population is functionally illiterate
  • According to the CDC, there are 2 billion people worldwide who do not have access to clean water at home.  2 billion…that’s billion with a “b.”

Yes, my friends, we are pretty darn blessed to be here.  We’re pretty darned blessed to be who we are.

That blessing comes, however, with a certain measure of responsibility.

Call to Action

When you hear that people are struggling, it is easy to get depressed.  It’s easy to want to turn away, to wring our hands, to shrug our shoulders.  But I believe that we at a university like this one—a Christian university—have a special responsibility.  “To whom much is given, much will be required.”  (Luke 12:48)

  • Where we see sickness, we should seek the knowledge that leads to cures.  Gardner-Webb can do that.
  • Where we see poverty, we should become entrepreneurs so that others might prosper.  Gardner-Webb can do that.
  • Where we see ignorance, we should be inspired to teach…and to teach those who will themselves become teachers.  Gardner-Webb can do that.
  • Where we see people who have lost their way, we should share a helping hand and we should share our faith.  Gardner-Webb can most certainly do that.

To whom much is given, much will be required.  And I am so proud to be at a university where we willingly step up to that challenge.

be your best bulldog

Sadly, my generation has never been called “The Greatest Generation.”  That term has been rightly reserved for our grandparents and our great-grandparents.

  • My generation didn’t defeat fascism in Europe and Asia in the 1940s. 
  • My generation didn’t discover a cure for polio in the 1950s, and it didn’t land a man on the moon in the 1960s.

Sometimes, I think, my generation derives too much entertainment from the negatives.  Just watch the nightly news on television. 

  • We’ve given you gas prices that have spent most of the summer above $4.00
  • we’ve given you the cancel culture
  • we’ve focused too much on ourselves and our bank accounts, our iPhones, our Apple watches, and the Internet.

My generation has given you “The Great Resignation.” 

We’ve chosen remoteness over relationships, distance over proximity, and solitude over community. 

We tear each other apart anonymously on social media, rather than look each other in the eye and try to build each other up.

My generation has so much work to do, and we promise you that we’ll do better. 

But I say all of this because I want to challenge you and your generation to be the ones who bring us all back together. 

You can’t care for humanity if you run from it.  Don’t resign yourself to being remote from each other; instead, revel in the relationships you build.

38 years ago, when I started college, I went to my freshman English class and the professor had a quote written on the chalkboard: 

“Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson

I was 18, so I rolled my eyes…but the professor had us write the quote down, and I’ve remembered it.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year…Don’t wilt or waver in the face of the challenges you see around you.  Instead, be inspired by the positive impact you are going to be able to make one day as a college graduate.  And, until then, remember that sometimes the best day of the year is the day you do something to make someone else smile.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day in the year.  The evidence shows us that college graduates have greater life satisfaction…so, stay on the path.

Public opinion surveys show that college graduates have greater life satisfaction…so, stay on the path.

College graduates are more likely to be civically engaged and to influence their communities…so, stay on the path.

College graduates know how to peacefully coexist with one another in an increasingly diverse world…so, stay on the path.

College graduates make positive and lasting differences in the lives of others…so, stay on the path.

Write it on your heart that every day is the best day of the year.

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.

Students, faculty.  Make this a great year.  Enjoy every moment.  Seize as many opportunities as possible.  Surround yourself with positivity.  Immerse yourself in a culture of success.  Attack each day with an attitude of confidence and compassion.

Recognize that you are in a special season of your life.  And commit yourself to using the knowledge you gain here, the skills you acquire here, to lift up those around you. 

Don’t wilt from challenges and ignore them…but instead be inspired to action.  And in your action, bring joy, comfort, and hope to those around you.

“For God and Humanity.”  You’ll hear that a lot around here.  I think God is the easy part.  We’re here to help you on that journey…but don’t forget about humanity. 

Thinking About What to Say to You Today

Admittedly, that’s a little more than my college chancellor said to me 38 years ago when I began at that big red school in Raleigh.

He said:

Study hard.

Stay healthy.

Join a club.

Have fun.

YES!  Have fun.  College is fun.

  • Pancake Bingo
  • Cheering on the Runnin’ Bulldogs
  • Dressing up for The Webbies
  • Concerts
  • The Big E
  • Hanging out at the Broad River

In addition to having fun, do something special…

  • Decide to study abroad
  • Spend a semester in Washington, DC, with our new The Webb in Washington program
  • Get that internship that you know you’ll need
  • Go on a mission trip, or just get out and serve the community

But keep your eyes focused on a higher purpose.  Keep your heart, soul, mind and strength fixed on doing good…for yourself and for others.  Be your best Bulldog, friends, and you’ll have an amazing year.

Thanks for your attention this morning.  Have a great week, a great semester, and a great year.  We care about you.  We love you.  We pray for you each and every day.  And we will be here for you every step of the way.

May God bless you.  May God continue to bless Gardner-Webb University.  And ‘Sko Dawgs!

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