Most college graduates do not list the speaker among the highlights of their commencement ceremony. On August 5, graduates at Gardner-Webb University’s (GWU) Summer Commencement sat and patiently waited for the moment they could walk across the stage to receive their diplomas.
Guests stepped to the podium and addressed the crowd, and graduates politely clapped and then peeked at the program to see who was next, silently wondering how many more? But then, the day’s commencement speaker stepped up.
Dr. Michael C. Blackwell’s voice reverberated through the Lutz-Yelton Convocation Center located on the Boiling Springs campus. Collectively the graduates sat up in their chairs, and soon the first chuckle was heard. Dr. Blackwell’s banter about his personal connections to the university as being “coincidence” peaked interests.
“Coincidence? I don’t think so,” he mused.
But Blackwell finally confessed, “Well, of course it is!” He said that he wanted the audience “to see ridiculous juxtapositions that are just that – ridiculous.” He encouraged the graduates to “keep on learning and growing and serving and thinking.” He charged them with seeking their “bliss” in all they do.
Then he added, “Be a little ridiculous along the way. If anyone ever says to you, ‘That’s the most ridiculous thing I’ve heard,’ then you know you’re on the right track.”
Dr. Blackwell reminded the audience it was once thought ridiculous to think a woman could be a doctor in America. Elizabeth Blackwell, MD, proved them wrong.
“It was ridiculous to think that a man could land on the moon,” Blackwell told graduates, “but President John Kennedy had a vision and proved them wrong."
He said it was ridiculous to think that “little white children and little black children could join hands for racial justice, but Martin Luther King had a dream and proved them wrong.”
Dr. Blackwell’s voice reached a crescendo when he said, “It was ridiculous to think that a little crossroads named Boiling Springs would be the birthplace of a major university.” Spontaneous clapping resounded.
Gardner-Webb University president Dr. Frank Bonner later commented at a luncheon held in Dr. Blackwell’s honor that the commencement message was the “best” he had ever heard.
Dr. Blackwell, Baptist Children’s Homes president/CEO, was not only invited to present the commencement address; the University was awarding him their highest recognition of merit, the Honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
When presenting Blackwell the honorary doctorate, Dr. Bonner said that GWU shared “a dedication to God and humanity with those who serve” at BCH under Blackwell’s leadership. He said, “...we feel a sense of kinship...as Christian organizations with a clear commitment to service and leadership.”
Heralding Blackwell, Bonner noted, “Today, we award our institution’s honorary doctorate degree to him (Dr. Blackwell), and yet we know that it is our institution that is honored by the association of such a fine representative of Christian scholarship and service.”
Recounting the day’s festivities, Dr. Bonner laughingly shared how he had drawn attention to one graduate’s very unique white pointed toe boots when the young man accepted his diploma. The graduate smiled and told Bonner, “I’m being ridiculous!”
This is Dr. Blackwell’s second honorary doctorate. In 2003, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters degree from Campbell University in Buies Creek.
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