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- September 2005 / BPC President Addresses Christian
Education Benefits at Convocation
BPC President Addresses Christian Education
Benefits at Convocation
Brewton-Parker College’s president used some profound words from some
of his wife’s former preschool and kindergarten students to establish
an outline that supported the unique opportunity of obtaining a Christian education
during his annual convocation address Sept. 6 in Saliba Chapel.
Dr. David R. Smith addressed students, staff
and faculty members, administrative officers and guests in a two-point speech
he called “From the Mouths
The convocation program also included a
resounding soprano saxophone performance of “Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee,” played
and arranged by Dr. Armenio Suzano Jr., associate professor of music, with
Brandon Pafford, a junior
from Blakely, accompanying him on the piano.
Dr. Armenio Suzano Jr.
(right), associate professor of music at Brewton-Parker College, plays
his arrangement of "Joyful, Joyful, We Adore Thee" on his soprano
saxophone, accompanied on the piano by Brandon Pafford, a junior from
Blakely, during convocation services Sept. 6 in Saliba Chapel. (Photo
by Terry Gaston)
“You are beginning a journey of intellectual inquiry and social experience
that will dramatically influence the way you view the world, the manner in
which you live your life, and the avenue through which you will pursue your
vocational calling,” Smith said. “I am very glad that you are here
“My wife, Jackie, and I have lived
here on campus for a few months more than seven years, and we have thoroughly
enjoyed these times. My hope for you
is that you find here a special place that quenches your desire for knowledge
and a college degree, and soothes your spirit through the beauty and tranquility
of our surroundings, and the development of friendships that will follow you
throughout your life.”
Smith introduced his wife as having expended
much of her professional life “as
an educator of small children who, from time to time, has written down some
of the cutest and most profound statements that her young students have uttered.”
Dr. David R. Smith (at
podium), president of Brewton-Parker College, addresses students, staff
and faculty members, administrative officers and guests during convocation
services to officially begin the 2005-06 academic year on Sept. 6 in
Saliba Chapel on the campus in Mount Vernon.
“This morning, I want to make two points, and use the declarations of
her preschool and kindergarten children to try to communicate them to you.
For instance, one young girl somberly shared with my wife that, ‘You
can’t hide a piece of broccoli in a glass of milk.’ How do you
suppose that she learned that lesson? Her statement brings me to my first point:
A college degree doesn’t hide an uneducated person.
“While it is true that you are well on the way to receiving your college
education by enrolling at Brewton-Parker College, that doesn’t guarantee
that you will leave educated. You see, the world-class faculty gathered behind
me today and the first-rate staff attending to your needs this fall offers
you the opportunity to receive a higher education. But you must attain it,
and you must make the most of your opportunities for learning while in college.
“The degree will help you in finding
employment, but the skills needed to be successful must be developed through
your educational experience. BPC
will do its part. The faculty and staff here will offer you the needed information
and exercises to help you gain the abilities necessary for future success.
In fact, many of our academic divisions are developing meaningful internships
and observation programs to expose you to future workplaces. But you must master
the skills yourselves.”
Smith quoted figures from 2003, which showed that the average full-time employee
in the United States with a baccalaureate degree earned $49,900, or 62 percent
more than the $30,800 earned by a high school graduate.
“A college diploma is the best means of upward mobility in our society,
but that is not the only reason to obtain a college degree. Educated people
make more responsible citizens,” he said.
“At Brewton-Parker College you will not only receive a bachelor’s
degree, but you will receive a liberal arts education. It is one thing to know
facts about a specific body of knowledge in a discipline in which you plan
to expend your career. It is another to have a broad background in all of the
areas of knowledge that human history has valued from time immemorial.
“A higher education, in the best tradition
of the liberal arts, is offered to you here. It can transform your life and
make you a citizen-leader in our
culture. It can provide you an income that will result in a lifestyle better
than that enjoyed by your parents. But these results will only be yours if
you apply yourself to the task at hand.
My father, a west Texas rancher, would say, ‘You can lead a horse to
water, but you can’t make him drink.’ As an educator, I might
add, ‘You can take a student to college, but you can’t make her
think.’ That, my friends, is up to you.”
Smith introduced his second point with another
remark from one of his wife’s
former preschoolers, who said: “You know, Mrs. Smith, no matter how hard
you try, you just can’t baptize cats.”
“Although I’ve never tried to baptize cats,” Smith said, “I
am confident that you can’t attain a Christian higher education at a
“Many of the strongest Baptist Student
Unions and Newman Centers and other Christian student organizations exist
on the campuses of our largest
public colleges and universities. However, a truly Christian higher education
offers a value-added intellectual journey that only a school like Brewton-Parker
College can provide.”
Smith then presented a brief history of
Christian and secular higher education, with the first such institutions
in Paris, France, and Bologna, Italy. “These
early centers of learning were instruments of the church,” he said, adding
that the University of Paris grew out of the Cathedral School of Notre Dame,
receiving its royal charter in 1200.
“Their teaching was distinctively Christian. … Their
organizations grew, examinations were given and diplomas were awarded. These
only remotely resembled modern institutions of higher learning, but two hallmarks
were evident: the search for truth and the freedom to pursue that search.”
With the Reformation came new colleges,
formed by the followers of Martin Luther and John Calvin, based on non-Catholic
roots. “These schools elevated
the Scriptures as the primary authority and pursued all other knowledge as
a means to more fully understand God’s revelation through the Bible,” Smith
“The Calvinist party in England became
known as the Puritans, and it was their search for a place of refuge that
brought higher education to America
during colonial times. Colleges such as Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Boston University
and Boston College, Amherst, Brown and Williams all began to train an educated
clergy without relying upon the educational centers in Europe.”
Smith continued by quoting Christian sociologist
Anthony Campolo, “These
institutions, and hundreds of others established over the following 300 years
in America, ‘contended that all knowledge reflected the glory of God,
and that learning enhanced appreciation of God and resulted in more intelligent
worship. All truth pointed to God, and the exploration of truth was believed
to be a means of bringing humanity into a closer relationship with the Almighty.’”
Smith mentioned that Yale and Princeton “served as the catalyst for
leadership in most of the colleges established in the Midwest until the Civil
War. Among the 110 presidents of 75 colleges in operation before 1840, 36 were
graduates of Yale and 22 of Princeton. A large segment of the faculty also
came from these two institutions. Sadly, none of the colleges I’ve just
mentioned retain any shred of their initial Christian mission today.”
He continued: “By the late 20th century, however, the public land grant
system and federal and state investment in higher education had completely
transformed the landscape of higher learning. Clark Kerr, for years president
of the University of California system, termed the phrase ‘multiversity’ to
describe what public higher education had become.
“Another prominent educator and higher education researcher, John Brubacher,
contends that no specific philosophy of education governs or even strongly
influences the modern university. He proposes, in fact, that the university
be regarded as a church without a god. … Brubacher’s proposal is
little more than a contemporary form of secular Gnosticism.
“The obvious conclusion from this abbreviated history is that the modern
college or university, predominantly secular and huge, holds a confused understanding
of its mission and its obligations to the public,” Smith said.
He said at least two inherent dangers are
found in scholarship “that
has no base in morality, ethics or spirituality.” The first is that such
intellectual inquiry normally results in the worst type of cynicism or skepticism.
A worse assumption can be made, however. Jerislav Pelikan observes, “‘If
knowledge is defined as this chief good and end in itself the moral consequences
can be frightening.’”
Smith then used a metaphor by English scholar
C.S. Lewis as an example “that
knowledge without spiritual meaning is a one-dimensional reality devoid of
the fullness that God intends for learning to bring.”
“In the United States today, there are approximately 4,200 degree-granting
institutions of higher learning. About 1,600 are private institutions, not
owned or operated by a local, state or the federal government. Of these, around
900 define themselves as ‘religiously affiliated’, and 65 are members
of the Association of Southern Baptist Colleges and Schools.
“Contrast secular higher education
with Christ-centered higher learning. To a Christian or a secular scholar,
truth is the outcome of scholarly research.
But to the Christian, such truth never excludes the truth that faith can bring
to an enlightened mind.”
Smith then quoted the apostle Paul in his
epistle to the Colossians: “We
proclaim him, admonishing and teaching everyone with all wisdom, so that we
may present everyone perfect in Christ. … My purpose is that they may
be encouraged in heart and united in love, so that they may have the full riches
of complete understanding in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely,
Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge.” (Col.
1:28; 2:2-3 NIV)
Smith continued: “A Christ-centered higher education assumes that ‘all
the treasures of wisdom and knowledge’ include music, theology, social
and behavioral sciences, teacher education, business, math and science, arts
and letters, and every volume stacked in the library. Christ-centered scholarship
is not something else, but something more, than secular inquiry.
“I believe, in fact, that Christianity
offers to the academy an opportunity for real inclusiveness. The Christ-centered
college is a place where all ideas
can be discussed openly and truth is never to be feared. It is an environment
in which students and faculty alike can plumb the depths of scientific inquiry
while allowing for the relevance of things which our senses cannot perceive.”
Smith said he sees an ironic swinging of
the pendulum “from the orthodoxy
of science toward the innovations of the community of faith, creating a direct
reversal of the actions of the past 150 years. Regardless, on campuses like
ours such debates are conducted in a civil and respectful manner on a routine
“More and more, I think, the Christian
college will be a place for rational debate and objective inquiry. This community
alone has a historic understanding
of ethics, a healthy view of moral issues, and a clear and cognizant theory
which unites human knowledge.”
Smith returned to another thought from one
of his wife’s preschoolers
in offering the faculty, staff and students some concluding advice in what
they should do with the thoughts he presented.
“A student, thinking that she was repeating a proverb, stated that ‘today’s
mighty oak is just yesterday’s nut that held its ground.’
“I like this revised axiom,” declared Smith. “Be
a nut that holds its ground. How?
“Take the best of the Christ-centered
educational opportunity that is before you. Learn as if it were not just
a privilege of being in college, but
a mandate from God. Interact with all of your classmates and college family.
Some of us are different from you. Get to know those unlike yourself, though
it may take you out of your comfort zone.
“Rise above cynicism and skepticism and failure. … Rise
above doubt. You will never know it all, but as Paul proclaimed to the Colossians,
you can know enough if you know Jesus Christ. My hope for many of you who may
not have a personal relationship with Christ is that you will receive your
spiritual B.A. degree while you are here; that is, your Born Again degree.
“Celebrate the struggle. Homework isn’t fun. But when you learn
its contents, and you need that knowledge after graduation, you will be grateful
for the exercise. Relationships here won’t always be easy. But from every
person you encounter you will learn something that can offer personal growth
and fulfillment. Learning how to manage time, money and independence offers
many chances to stumble. But you can survive a skinned knee or a bump on the
forearm. Get up and keep moving into productive adulthood.
“May God bless you, and may He bless