category: President's Blog

Family Weekend:  Making New Memories at GWU

This past weekend Gardner-Webb University hosted its twice-annual Family Weekend. What a joy it was to see so many parents, grandparents and siblings reconnect with their GWU students for fun, food, and fellowship. Granted, our students had only just returned to campus from the Christmas break a few short weeks earlier; nevertheless, the reunions were full of emotion and energy. Despite the intermittent rain, we had strong turnouts for all the many activities that spanned the three-day winter tradition. There was family Bingo, family trivia competitions, an indoor tailgate feast, and lots and lots of Runnin’ Bulldog sports. Hugs, cheers, laughter, and maybe even a few tears at the end on Sunday marked a weekend well spent. Thank you for attending, Bulldog Families!

Psalm 127:3 reminds us that “Children are a heritage of the Lord.” Children, we know, are indeed a divine gift. The bonds between children and parents are incredibly important, even if they are not always the easiest to maintain. I had a few official roles as president during Family Weekend, but mainly I had the pleasure and privilege to observe. Watching our students get recognized for academic achievements, watching our students excel on the fields of competition, and watching our students profess their Christian faith in front of their families gave me…well, goosebumps. For those of us who have committed themselves to a life in higher education, there simply is little better than watching the faces of parents as they see their college student grow, mature, and flourish.

Family Weekend 2024 began on Friday with our Academic Recognition ceremony in historic Bost Gym. Success in the classroom is the core of the university enterprise, and we intentionally began the multiday festivities with a focus on scholastic performance. At that event, certificates of achievement were distributed to all students who had secured a place on the President’s List (GPA of 4.0) or on the Dean’s List (3.70 to 3.99 GPA). There was no shortage of smiles from parents capturing the moment with cell phone cameras. Bravo, Bulldog scholars!

The other bookend event of the weekend that made the greatest impression on me was our Sunday morning Worship at The Webb. With the elements outside conspiring—unsuccessfully—against a large crowd at Dover Chapel, we filled the pews to hear powerful personal testimony from GWU undergraduate Anna Sample. We had our spirits uplifted by the music of Tanner Hendricks and his accompanying worship band. And we heard a wonderful message from Neal Payne, Associate Minister to the University for Student Ministries. Neal’s focus that morning was straightforward…he delivered a message of encouragement. That encouragement transcended the negativity and divisiveness of other loud voices in our world, and we all needed to hear that. Recalling the best professional advice he’d ever received during his years in the ministry, Neal drew upon family—his father—who had once emphasized to him “To remember who you work for.” What a great takeaway for all Christians…we should all remember that it’s our Heavenly Father for whom we ultimately work. Great message, great testimony, great music, great service.

I hope that everyone who came to campus to join us for Family Weekend enjoyed it as much as Kim and I did. Our own children have finished their university studies, married, and moved away. It was good for us to live vicariously through the glimpses of love and togetherness on display these three days at GWU. I say we do it again!

Dr. William M. Downs

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