Reflecting on the past while looking to the future was a consistent theme of speakers at a May 18 graduate/faculty prayer breakfast that opened commencement weekend activities at Samford University.
Graduating senior Christina Schoerner from Carrollton, Ga., spoke poignantly of her faith experiences at Samford as a Catholic student at a historically Baptist university. Noting that she was raised in what she described as a "strong Catholic Christian home," she believed the "Holy Spirit was drawing me to Samford." Eventually she became active in the Catholic Student Association on campus and found herself "surrounded by people of faith."
"The world is a better place when we embrace each other in the true meaning of being a Christian," Schoerner said. "No matter how virtuously you live your life, you have nothing if you don't serve others as Christ served."
Music and worship faculty member Eric Mathis also encouraged graduates to not "miss an opportunity to see Christ and to see opportunities to serve Christ in the world."
"We learn [from scripture] that faith is nothing if not rooted in love and built on Christ," Mathis said. "If you depart Samford with nothing else today, no matter who you are or where you are, remember that there always will be space for you in the loving arms of God."
Sonya Davis, an instructor in the core curriculum, spoke on the importance of scholarship as a lifelong pursuit.
Noting that the word scholarship means different things to different people, she invoked 19th century writer Ralph Waldo Emerson's claim that "the process of scholarship extends beyond the classroom. Scholarship is not a spectator sport. It is a lifelong endeavor that requires deliberate action on our part."
She urged graduates to "find power in knowledge, and don't ever let an opportunity for learning pass you by."
Walter Turner, a graduating senior from Maylene, Ala., said that balancing scholarship and faith was an important part of college and life.
"Too often we got wrapped up in learning and the pressures of our classes that we neglected our faith," turner said. "I put so much focus on reviewing materials for my classes that I forgot about becoming closer to Christ."
The father-son team of Greg and Jesse Kawell presented unique perspective on the topic of friendship.
Greg Kawell spoke both as a parent and as a member of the mathematics and computer science faculty. He said that he and his wife were pleased when Jesse chose to attend Samford because "Samford offers such a great opportunity for students to get connected."
He encouraged graduates to have friends with shared values, who offer unselfish love, who are deeply loyal and with whom one can be really transparent. "My prayer for you is that hopefully you have made some friends like that [at Samford.] If not, go out from here and ask God to bring some of those people into your life."
Jesse Kawell said "friends are not just fun, they are necessary." He talked about participating in a study group during the spring semester, led by his father, that focused on the importance of accountability among men.
"We must have someone with whom we can be accountable and who can be accountable with us. I learned that I must open my eyes to the people God has in my life now and to keep my eyes open to those who will come into my life," he said.
He urged his fellow graduates to "enjoy the friendship of those you have now and those to come who will help to guide you in the great adventure of life."
Samford President Andrew Westmoreland summarized the theme in his closing remarks, using the analogy of college as a "business transaction" between students and the institution as students pay and receive an education in return.
"But, that's not the heart and soul of what takes place here," Westmoreland said. "Yes, it is a business transaction. But, for us, and we hope for you, it is a lot more than just a business transition."
Emphasizing the pride of the faculty and staff in the graduates, he said, "The most noble expression that excites those of us who teach is when we can learn in the weeks, months and decades ahead about what you have achieved."
This was the third year for the prayer breakfast, which Westmoreland said in his introduction is "becoming a cherished tradition at Samford."