Dear Harding students:
I am deeply grateful to The Bison staff for inviting me to address you one last time in this manner. On Friday, we will successfully complete our 13 weeks of on-campus instruction, and you will head home for the remainder of this most unusual COVID-19 semester. Some of you will graduate on Saturday, and I will see you then. For the rest of you, when you return to campus in January, Dr. Burks will be the president of Harding University, and I will have moved on to the next chapter in my life. There is so much that I would like to say to you, but the next 500 words are what my heart most wants to share about why I love you and am so inspired by you.
First of all, I have always seen myself in you. The world was very different when I arrived on campus as a freshman in the fall of 1975, but so much about being a Harding student has not changed. On that Sunday afternoon after my parents dropped me off on campus, I remember walking by Graduate Hall and being almost overwhelmed by a sense of a new beginning. Few people on campus knew if I had been good or bad, kind or cruel, sincere or hypocritical, intelligent or not-so-smart. I sensed that, more than ever before, I was in charge of the person I would become. I think the memory of that moment is the lens through which my heart has viewed Harding students all these years. Every one of us comes here in the process of becoming. In the hands of God, this is called “sanctification,” and we can all be changed for the better during our time here. That is why I see in you a reflection of my 1970s self. It makes me nostalgic and helps me to pass along to you some of the grace that I so much needed and so freely received in my own days as a student. And it reminds me of how important it is to choose life, to seek first the kingdom of God, to find the straight gate and the narrow way and to respond with all of our heart, soul, mind and strength when Jesus calls to us, “Follow me.” Incredible life-altering choices continue to be made every day on the Harding University campus. This is why my experience over 40 years ago has much more in common with your experience today than you might at first imagine.
In Proverbs 31, scripture tells about the noble virtues of Lady Wisdom. She lives with tremendous character and, as a result, she “laughs at the time to come.” You probably have not realized it, but you have often filled my heart with laughter during these past seven and one-half years. Your compassion for people in all kinds of need, your joy in discovering the deepest fellowship you have ever experienced, your openness and transparency about the broken road you have traveled to get here and even the battles you currently face, your commitment to Jesus and your willingness to follow him wherever he may lead you — these are the ways you inspire me and cause me to laugh at the time to come. As people age, we tend to become negative and grow cynical about the generations that are coming along behind us, but you have helped me to stay young. I have seen the future, and it is in good hands. You continue to be a source of hope and comfort to me.
Thank you for all you have done for me and for all you will yet do to the glory of God. I love you, and I pray that God will bless you richly on your journey through life.
With love and gratitude,