Samford University's McWhorter School of Pharmacy held its 2011 commencement ceremonies May 13.
The school, founded in 1927, presented 114 Doctor of Pharmacy Degrees during a ceremony in Samford's Wright Concert Hall.
Dr. Michael E. Fleenor, Health Officer, Jefferson County (Ala.) Department of Health, delivered the commencement address. In his introduction of the speaker, McWhorter School of Pharmacy Dean Charles D. Sands III said he first met Fleenor while both men were medical missionaries in China. They met again when Sands returned to Samford on one of his regular teaching visits. Connecting through former pharmacy dean Joe Dean led to a thriving relationship between the school and the health department--one that has opened new worlds of healthcare experience and practice for the Samford's pharmacy students. I
In his address, Fleenor emphasized that the McWhorter School of Pharmacy class of 2011 should continue the public service that has characterized that relationship. Noting Jesus' concern for "the least of these," Fleenor reminded graduates that in some cases they will be a community's sole source of medical expertise.
Fleenor also warned that such power and prestige can interfere with three forms of knowledge that he considers essential to a service-oriented professional career--knowledge of self, the world and one's place in the world. "Undoubtedly, this degree you have received will define you in the minds of many and it certainly is the foundation for the success you will enjoy in the future," Fleenor said. "But herein lies its Siren call".
Fleenor said public respect and trust can tempt one to self-aggrandizement and an unwarranted sense of certainty even in non-professional matters. "Listen closely to the low tones of doubt as a healthy foil to the certainty that can prevent awareness," he said. Listening to an agnostic voice, in the secular sense of that word, "can help check the tendency to be closed to dialogue when you hear something that goes against deeply held convictions or perceptions of who we are or how the world is".
Fleenor observed that book learning can take one only so far, and the graduates should continue to explore the world and allow it to become a "laboratory of discovery socio-culturally, politically and economically". Doing so will likely challenge their views, he said, noting that his work in Asia, Eastern Europe and impoverished parts of Alabama has convinced him that some typical American ideas--notably the "protestant work ethic, "often foster an arrogant illusion of self-sufficiency."
He said this is especially apparent in the American south. "We pride ourselves as a deeply religious community, yet so many or our citizens are oppressed medically, economically and politically. By being successful ourselves, we have allowed systems our forebears constructed to continue to marginalize or alienate other individuals in this same community". He noted that Alabama perennially trails the nation in measures of physical, mental and social health. "Doing little or nothing to challenge this status quo, we implicitly call it good when it is evil".
Fleenor offered two Biblical figures to illustrate the need for the pharmacy graduates to discover their place in the world. Abraham, he noted, was already a successful man when God called him. "He could have stayed where he was," Fleenor said, "but his was an active and aspiring faith that lived out God's call and command that "as you have been blessed, be a blessing'". "God is calling each of us to the same at this crossroad today," Fleenor said.
Jacob, too, was superficially successful, Fleenor said, but challenging God set him on a new path with a new name and a pain that served as a constant reminder of his relationship with God and others. Fleenor said developing a deeper understanding of one's self, one's world and one's place in it can be painful, too, but that reminder can be "a blessing that will make all the difference". Embracing that pain, he said, can reveal "the way of God's blessing the world through you, and God blessing you through the world".