I’ve always thought it interesting that college and university presidents are officially placed in office through inauguration ceremonies like this that occur a year or more after they have begun their work. I suppose it’s to see if the new guy will work out before going to all this trouble of an inauguration. You’ll have to ask members of the Emmanuel family how it’s working out with me, but I’m still here, and I’m deeply honored to serve my alma mater in this capacity.
In the fall of 1967, my parents brought me from our home in Mt. Pleasant, South Carolina to this sleepy little town in Northeast Georgia. My father shook my hand. My mother cried. And they drove away. Little did any of us know at that time my life would be intricately woven into the fabric of Emmanuel College. First, as a student for two years when Emmanuel was a junior college. Second, as an alum living in the community while completing a bachelor’s degree at the University of Georgia. Then later, as an employee of the College for 22 years. And now, as president.
I remember something our sixth president, Dr. Culbreth Melton, said one time which has always stuck with me. I think we were in the dining hall having a morning cup of coffee, sitting at a table with several faculty and administrators, talking about the success of a former student. Obviously, the conversation stirred up memories of that student such that Dr. Melton said something like this: “You have to be careful how you treat students. You never know which ones will rise to power and influence. The one you think doesn’t have a chance is the very one who ascends to a position of prominence.” Bishop Beacham, I think he was talking about you and me. Dr. Beacham, please stand and be recognized. And your wife, Susan, is here as well. Dr. Beacham is a former faculty member here, was pastor of the local church, then superintendent of the Georgia Conference and now is the General Superintendent and Presiding Bishop of the International Pentecostal Holiness Denomination. Thank you, Doug, for your support and for your friendship these past 48 years.
For those of you who don’t know, Doug Beacham and I were classmates here at Emmanuel in the late 60s and at UGA in the early 70s. During that time we formed a rather infamous singing group with the not-so-subtle name of Revolution. We were out there. Outside the box. Some would say we weren’t anywhere near the box. I can still see Dr. Kirk Hartsfield, then the Dean of Students, shaking his head at some of our, shall-we-say, antics – and that’s putting it politely.
Dr. Hartsfield and Mr. Ed Henson, perhaps more than any other employees over the years, vie for the title of Mr. Emmanuel, the epitome of the faithful servant-leader, laboring at Emmanuel College for decades. Mr. Henson is here today. Thank you for being here. Dr. Hartsfield must have also wondered who among the students of each generation would rise to prominence, because he saw a steady stream of Emmanuel graduates coming back over the years to serve at his side. I’m sure he wondered if the gods must be crazy when you, Bishop Beacham, became his pastor, and I became the new Dean of Students, taking his place. Yes, the world turned upside down.
Dr. Hopkins, our seventh president is here. Please stand and be recognized. And his wife, Claudia, is here as well. Thank you. Dr. Hopkins, you were one of those who returned–first, as faculty, then academic dean and finally as president. I don’t know what embarrassing tales your student years hold, but I’m sure there were those in the know who were amazed when you came back. But Sir, we owe you a tremendous debt of gratitude for your 22 years of service as president. While there are many achievements in your administration, the one that stands out to me is that under your presidency, Emmanuel moved from junior college status to become an accredited, four-year liberals arts college. Thank you. It was an honor to serve at your side during your tenure. In fact, it’s because of you I’m standing here today. It was you who asked me to serve in your administration. It was you who encouraged me to get advanced degrees. It was you who had confidence in me and prodded me forward. Thank you for believing in me, and thank you for your friendship.
Dr. Michael Stewart, out eighth president is here. And his wife, Pam, is here as well. Please stand and be recognized. Thank you. Mike, you were one of those who returned as well. And I remember you as a student when I first came back to work here. Unfortunately, I don’t remember much about that time, and that’s probably a good thing for both of us. Now, not only did Doug serve as Dr. Hartsfield’s pastor, you were his associate pastor for a season as I recall, serving this church and community. Thank you, sir, for your nine years of service as president, for your vision that led to significant campus expansion during your tenure, and thank you for your friendship.
So, I find it amusing. Great men like Melton, Hartsfield, Henson and others – surrounded by the likes of Beacham, Hopkins, Stewart, and White. Therefore, faculty, staff, administrators – the moral of this story – be careful how you treat these students. Dr. Melton was right. You never know which ones will come back and take your place.
I am humbled and honored to be in such great company, from former presidents and former faculty to current staff, faculty and students. I am so grateful to be a part of such a wonderful college family. And students, you are the reason we exist–you and all the students yet to enroll in the years to come. Our duty is to preserve this place as a beacon of hope and an example of Christian higher education. But more than preserve, we must advance the mission of this College in an ever-expanding scope that launches its graduates into the world as genuine change-agents who take what’s broken and fix it, who see what’s needed and do it, and who understand opportunity and seize it. We need Emmanuel College now, more than ever.
Presidents come and go, but this College endures. It is the responsibility of those of us who currently serve to ensure the College survives these times, but more importantly, lives on to thrive as an instrument of God to countless generations to come. As I view the years ahead of me, I have five goals for my tenure as president–goals which I hope we can endorse and work together to achieve. May we approach this using the words of the Apostle Paul, “focus on this one thing,” he said. “Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, press on” (Philippians 3:13-14, NLT). We can’t do anything about the past, but we can do something about the future by taking the right actions in the present. Working diligently toward these goals in the present will secure our future. These may not be the only goals, but in my opinion, these five are the place to start.
Goal 1. We will establish fiscal stability. Already, we have done great work in this area. My senior management team has worked tirelessly these past twelve months, and we have made incredible strides. But there is much more we must accomplish. To do this, we will improve our business plan. We will strengthen our revenue generators through strategic enrollment planning and through donor-investor enlistment. Strengthen not merely grow or increase. We will engage teams of internal and external stakeholders who will advance curricular and co-curricular programs needed by target audiences in the 21st Century. We will solicit donor-investors to think differently–to think of financial contributions as investments in people who become lasting legacies of return-on-investment. We will reduce our debt and service it responsibly. We will be vigilant and stay focused on the important things, refusing to be casual and careless with institutional assets. “Diligent hands bring wealth,” so states the Biblical proverb (Proverbs 10:4, NLT).
Goal 2. We will improve academic outcomes. To do this, we will engage the best and the brightest students and help them reach their potential. We will challenge the underprepared and help them exceed expectations. We will stimulate the growth of academic rigor. We will aspire to higher academic standards. We will focus on what we do best – teaching. We will uphold educational values and operationalize them in our students and faculty. We will break with tradition where necessary if it brings a better result. We will think outside the box regarding methodologies, disciplines, and technologies. We will create more value-added outcomes, making the investment in a college education pay larger dividends. We will live by another Proverb: “Let the wise listen and add to their learning” (Proverbs 1:5, NLT).
Goal 3. We will increase enrollment, not just for better bragging rights or simply for more revenue; rather, we will view more students as more opportunity to change the world where it needs changing. Again, we have made great progress in a very short time, enrolling this past fall the largest class in the history of Emmanuel College. But more must be done. We will increase the number of students from our sponsoring denomination, the International Pentecostal Holiness Church. We will educate them and prepare them for greater service to the church and the world. We will increase the number of students from the north Georgia community. We always have been and always will be a local college for local families. We will increase the number of students from across the United States and around the world who come here for the Emmanuel experience and for the unique encounters yet to be developed. The Bible encourages us with these words: “Make your tents large. Spread out! Think big!” (MSG) . . . “for you will soon be bursting at the seams!” (Isaiah 54:2-3, NLT).
Goal 4. We will establish a culture of service. Emmanuel has always served and many students each year participate in service opportunities. But my vision is to see the majority of our students each year engaged in serving. To do this, we will see a shift from the self-centered tenets of our modern world to a selfless passion to serve regardless of career choices. Some will serve full-time and will make service a career. Most will enter professions and engage in typical career tracks, but while preparing here at Emmanuel, they will learn to serve as a natural outgrowth of their Christian walk, and as graduates, will continue to give back in a lifetime of service opportunities. We will send our students and graduates by the thousands into backwaters and by-ways, into urban centers and metropolitan cultures, into third-world countries and international wealth zones. Anywhere there are hurting people who need a helping hand, we will go. We will network with local entities and with organizations of international renown. Service to others will be the norm and will be how we are known. We will do well to remember that the scriptures state: “Pure and genuine religion in the sight of God the Father means caring for orphans and widows in their distress” (James 1:27, NLT), in other words, caring for the helpless and the vulnerable. This we will do.
Goal 5. We will expand our institutional mission. This one is less formed in my mind, but I know it is our destiny to expand our horizons and do more than we’ve ever done. I also know we have intelligent and insightful people on the bus who can figure this out, and where there may be empty seats, I know God is preparing others to make their way here, accepting the call. We may be surprised where some of this leads us, but we will stay true to our mission of higher education and to our values of Faith, Learning and Living. We will establish new direction and facilitate change. We will invigorate a campus environment centered in Biblical Christian values. We will exercise three spiritual disciplines. First, we will pray. Prayer is first – before strategy, tactics, and plans, before anything. Prayer provides answers and builds faith in God. The Apostle James (1:5, NLT) said it this way, “If you need wisdom, ask our generous God, and He will give it to you.” The second discipline: we will exercise faith. We will believe God for enablement and provision. We will overcome discouragement and defeatism. We will exercise faith to see what will be instead of what is, to see the end from the beginning. “Faith is the confidence that what we hope for will actually happen; it gives us assurance about things we cannot see” (Hebrews 11:1, NLT). And the third discipline: we will rely on the Holy Spirit to guide us by the written Word and the spoken word. He will be our guide. He will be our comfort. He will be our empowerment. Hear the Word of the Lord from Galatians 5, “Let us follow the Spirit’s leading in every part of our lives” (Galatians 5:15, NLT).
We need Emmanuel College now, more than ever. In a world that at times seems to have gone mad, where reason seems to have turned to foolishness and life-sustaining values have been compromised, we need colleges and universities like Emmanuel that take a stand for what is good. And “let’s not get tired of doing what is good,” the Bible states, for “at just the right time we will reap a harvest of blessing if we don’t give up” (Galatians 6:9, NLT). We need Emanuel College, where Christ is exalted and Christian values are kept. Now more than ever, we need an educated populace who focus on the important, not the trivial, who live for others, and not for self, who do meaningful and exceptional work, never satisfied with the mindless and the mediocre, who really are people of significance and worth who leave the world a better place for having been in it. That’s the Emmanuel College I know and intend to serve – now, more than ever. Thank you.