We are dreaming a larger dream for Ouachita that leads to a five-year strategic plan in December. It’s a collaborative process that allows everyone to share their voice about our future.
Last fall more than 1,300 people, including 700 students, completed a survey by responding to two questions:
There was unanimity across Ouachita about the top two characteristics that should not change. We should not change our commitment to our Christ-centered identity and we should not change our commitment to academic excellence. I agree.
The survey included 5,000 specific comments – and I read every one. There was considerable student input about food and residence life. We heard you. I heard you. That led to two changes:
Allow me to share some other good news.
This good news and other points of progress were shared with faculty and staff two weeks ago in a speech I gave entitled: “Ouachita Rising: From Strength to Strength.”
Ouachita is rising. We are going from strength to strength. We give thanks to the Lord, to all of you and to all who care deeply about Ouachita.
So, here we are beginning our 132nd year. Convocation is a significant tradition. It marks the beginning of a new academic year. It brings all of us together.
At Convocation, I believe it’s important to consider this question: “Why does Ouachita matter?”
Today, I want to give one answer, a brief one that draws from our Vision Statement’s opening words that state: “Ouachita seeks to foster a love of God and a love of learning.”
On move-in day, I said to new students that at Ouachita, we’re doing something very different and unique. There are 4,700 institutions of higher education in the United States but only 150 are Protestant and purposefully Christian universities. Among those Christian colleges, few have 95% of students living on campus like we do.
That means Ouachita represents less than 1% of all the universities in this country. This is a special place. Why are there so few universities like Ouachita?
Because it’s hard to do. It requires a considerable investment by students; considerable sacrifice by faculty and staff; and considerable generosity by alumni and friends.
It requires God’s faithfulness. It begins with essential beliefs.
We believe that in the beginning was God, and that the world was created by God.
We believe that every person is made in God’s image, deserves respect and is worthy of our love.
We believe we were made to love and to learn; to think and to feel; to create and to steward; and to do so in relationship with God and with others.
We believe that God’s perfect creation was marred by sin. We believe that God sent His only son, Jesus Christ, who was crucified, died and resurrected. As a result, we can have a right relationship with God and with others.
With help from the Bible, an authoritative guide for living; by the power of the Holy Spirit; and
through the community of a local church, we can have an eternal life.
We can have an abundant life. We can flourish. We can have lives of meaningful work and reasoned engagement with the world.
We believe that God invites us to follow Him and to work with others in His redemptive work, to see His Kingdom come and His will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.
Therefore, everything, every student, every class, every major, every truth matters. Therefore, growing in our love of God and in our love of learning matters.
We can better serve the Kingdom and the common good if we understand that our love for God and our love for learning need not, and should not, be separated.
We must know God, know His world and all that He’s created. This requires learning, learning about everything, learning that never ends. God has made us to learn. It’s a gift from God. It fulfills who we are.
As we learn about God and all that He’s created, we grow in our love of God. As we grow in our love for God and all that He’s done for us, we grow in our love of learning.
We grow into the likeness of Christ, develop character, become wiser and make better decisions.
We become better students. Better sons and daughters. Better brothers and sisters. Better moms and dads. Better followers and leaders. Better citizens and church members. Better people. Better at everything.
Every class and every activity, if we allow it, is an opportunity for us to grow in our love of God and learning. It takes discipline, as an individual and as a university.
For example, it helps explain why we have the discipline of Chapel. As a voluntary community, we give up some things for the greater good.
We give up 50 minutes every Tuesday for Chapel as a way to remind us to grow in our love of God and learning; to remind us that we do life together; to remind us of who we are and that what we do at Ouachita matters.
Students, we desire for you – and for ourselves – to value the journey of becoming lifelong learners and lifelong lovers of God.
We won’t do it perfectly, but let’s commit to do it genuinely. We can’t do it alone, but let’s commit to do it together. We don’t have to do it uniformly, but let’s do it with unity.
It’s a different way to do higher education. It’s Ouachita’s way because we believe it matters.
Friends, Ouachita is more than a campus. More than a set of beliefs. Ouachita is us. The people gathered in this room, plus 13,000 alumni in all 50 states and 40 countries, and all who care about Ouachita.
The people who came before us have been found faithful to God and faithful to the ideals of Ouachita. It’s a trust given to us. I challenge us to be found faithful in this, our 132nd year.
If you share this commitment with me, take a gift as you leave Convocation. It’s a patch resembling the picture on the screen (a circle patch with the following words: Love God & Love Learning, Ouachita, 2017-18, with a picture of Berry Chapel Steeple). Put it in a place that you’ll see it daily. I’ve attached one to my backpack.
As we commit to grow in our love of God and love of learning, with the help of the Holy Spirit, and as we serve one another, you can flourish this year. And Ouachita will thrive this year.
Lord, make it so!
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