2010 COMMENCEMENT ADDRESS
SATURDAY, MAY 8, 2010, 10:00 A.M.
MT. VERNON BAPTIST CHURCH-WESTWOOD
Why don’t you look in the direction of the graduates and just say praise the Lord. Somebody just ought to shout hallelujah. Why don’t you help me remind the graduates and just tell them now is the hour. Let me hear a loud applause for our graduates.
Chairman Lipscomb, Members of the Board of Trustees, Faculty, Staff, our host Pastor, Dr. James Netters, Loretta (the first lady of LeMoyne-Owen College), Diane Rudner (recipient of an honorary doctorate), Friends of LeMoyne-Owen College and especially to the 2010 Graduating Class: When someone asks, “What was the Commencement Speaker’s subject,” just tell them he kept repeating four words:
NOW IS THE HOUR
Now is the hour is the title of a song that many educational institutions still sing at graduation. The song opens with “Now is the hour when we must say good-bye” and ends with “when you return you’ll find me waiting here.” Fifty years ago, my classmates who are here today, said farewell to each other only to reunite today. We remember that graduation hour just as if it were today. Dr. A.D. Beittel, Dean at Beloit College in Wisconsin, gave the commencement address. It was a brief address as he issued the traditional challenges to the graduates. And as I reviewed the names of graduates in the Class of 1960, we accepted the challenges and all 69 of us delivered in some way. LeMoyne had prepared me so well that I already had a contract to teach in the Memphis City Schools. We realized during that Commencement hour that higher levels of maturity and performance were expected of us. We listened intently as he talked about the challenges awaiting the graduates..
As I reflect on 1) the $20,000 donation from the ardent abolitionist, Dr. Francis Julius LeMoyne, to the American Missionary Association that was to provide a liberal arts education in a Christian setting; 2) the power invested in the Office of the President by the Board of Trustees; and 3) as a 50 year alumnus of the College, I concluded that I have earned the right to speak to you in my own way. As a result, I am not going to quote today from the Greek philosophers or the great books of the Western world, but in keeping with the wishes of Dr. LeMoyne, I am going to quote from a book whose purpose is to help discover ways to relate to the word of God.
To the graduating Class of 2010, I would ask that you listen to the passage in Ephesians 5: 15-17, “Be very careful, then, how you live not as unwise but as wise, making the most of every opportunity… Therefore, do not be foolish, but understand what the Lord’s will is.” I think the Apostle Paul presents an important lesson that we need to consider and that is to make the most of every opportunity every day of your lives.
Most graduation speakers are traditional in that they offer challenges to the graduates and in that regard, I am not going to deviate as I list commitments that you can make during this hour that will make a difference in your lives and all that you impact, with and by, your degrees.
Now is the hour for you to help continue the course chartered for the College through the 2008 Transformation Plan by Chairman Robert Lipscomb and the Board of Trustees. We have seen the plan come to fruition through high quality academic programs and community involvement, a significantly increased enrollment, fiscal stability, and improvements to the physical plant. Play your role in the continued growth of your College through active membership in the Alumni Association.
Now is the hour for us to remind Black children, white children, all children of the slogan of the United Negro College Fund that “a mind is a terrible thing to waste.”
Now is the hour for you to remember that in Shelby County only 13 percent of all African Americans hold a bachelor’s degree or higher compared to 35 percent of white resident. As graduates of LeMoyne-Owen College, you know that the key to turning this around is a quality education. You also know that LeMoyne-Owen College is equipped to meet this challenge. Encourage a friend or relative to return to College and earn a degree to help reverse this statistic.
Now is the hour to heed the words of the champion of champions, Mohammed Ali, whose advise to you today would be “Don’t count the days, make the days count.” As you enter the world of work, get so involved in your career that you arrive 30 minutes before starting time and refuse to leave until you have completed all of your work goals for the day.
Now is the hour for the 2010 graduates of LeMoyne-Owen College to join hands with Christians, Muslems, Jews and people of all faiths to fight for human and civil rights for all and to eradicate poverty, homelessness, hunger, and to donate to scientific causes to find cures for cancer, AIDS, juvenile diabetes and other maladies.
Now is the hour for decision making that will, and should, provide you with a roadmap (pardon me I should have said GPS) with directions for the rest of your lives.
I made a decision 50 years ago when I earned a degree from LeMoyne College that I would one day become an outstanding educator in the City of Memphis. I stand before you today on my 50th year anniversary, the 11th President of LeMoyne-Owen College, as a living testimonial and all you have to do to join me in the ranks of successful alumni is to say now is the hour and mean every word of it.
Be creative, certainly borrow from my list of things that I would challenge you to commit, but develop your own list of contributions that you are going to make as graduates of LeMoyne-Owen College.
One of my favorite athletes is former NBA player Charles Barkley. I like his candor, the way that he handles interviews, his brashness. I flinch just a little when I hear him tell young people that he is not a role model and he does not want to serve as a mentor. Graduates, I want to serve as your mentor and role model. I want you to study my career as a professional educator and not only mentor me, but exceed everything that I have accomplished throughout my career. I also want you to serve as a mentor or role model to someone seeking to achieve what you have achieved.
Graduates, we know that life is all about choices. Hopefully, I have made at least two good choices for my life. The first choice was Christianity and the second was education. May I remind you of the lessons in Matthew 7:24-28:
The foolish man built his house upon the sands and the rains
Came tumbling down
The rains came down and the floods came up
And the house upon the sands came down
The wise man built his house upon the rock
And the rains came down and the floods came up
And the house upon the rock stood firm
On this, one of the most memorable days of your lives, now is the hour to commit to building your lives on a solid foundation:
Build on a foundation of Christianity
Build on a foundation of education
Build on a foundation of love.
Build on a foundation of prayer
Build on a foundation of wisdom.
Your education from LeMoyne-Owen College has provided you with a solid foundation on which to build.
And as I close to preserve my energy to congratulate, shake each hand, and award you the degrees you so capably earned, just remember the words from that African American Hymnal, If when you give the best of your service, He’ll understand and say, well done.
Congratulations! Congratulations! Congratulations!
Johnnie B. Watson ‘60