Samford University graduate and former presidential assistant Eric L. Motley urged Samford seniors to remain alert through "the new tidal wave of technology, politics and economics of the 2lst century" during their post-university years.
"The great challenge facing every individual graduating today is to remain awake through this, the most enormous transformation in human history," Dr. Motley told the 683 seniors and more than 5,000 others at Samford commencement May 26.
Motley was a presidential appointments assistant in the Bush White House from 2001 until 2005. He is now vice president and managing director of the Henry Crown Fellowship Program at the Aspen Institute in Washington, D.C.
In his travels as a presidential assistant, Motley said he was greatly disturbed by one particular trait in the people he met, "the lack of awareness of what is going on nationally and internationally and the lack of serious engagement."
Motley said "every generation has its mandate, its revolution." Some are realized thunderously while some come "in the quiet arousal of a great and life-changing idea" such as today's revolution "sweeping away old paradigms." He reminded seniors of writer Washington Irving's story about Rip Van Winkle, who slept for 20 years during which America won its independence from England.
"The most striking fact about the story of Rip Van Winkle is not that he slept for 20 years, but that he slept through a revolution," said Motley.
He told his audience that "to remain awake" through today's revolution, "we are challenged to achieve a world perspective." Today's issues do not easily fit into neat boxes labeled "domestic" and "foreign policy."
Motley said the old rules do not apply. "We need to understand the interconnectedness of the world in which we now live, to meet the challenges we face," he said. Those challenges include energy security, global climate change, the threat of terrorism and proliferation of weapons of mass destruction, the spread of radical fundamentalism, endemic global health threats, education and immigration.
Meeting these challenges "will require a revolution in our thinking and awareness," and "it will require our engagement," he said.
Although "there is no community service requirement in the real world," Motley said the world needs risk takers, life-long learners, and "more desperately people who ground their decisions in values that make a difference." He reminded the seniors that Samford nurtured a set of Christian values "that says community is as important as self, that caring for others who need us is most important, and that rewards are not just material."
The 1996 graduate spoke at his alma mater's final commencement at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena, where graduation has been held since 1990 to accommodate crowd sizes. Next year, commencement will move back to campus and be held in the new Pete Hanna Arena, now under construction with a completion date of this fall.
Samford awarded its top student awards at the close of commencement. Kyle Joseph Rudemiller of Huntsville, Ala., received the President's Cup for the highest academic average. James Patrick Weaver of Orange Park., Fla., was presented the Velma Wright Irons Award for the second highest average. Claire Elizabeth Kimberly of Muscle Shoals, Ala., received the John C. Pittman Spirit Award.