Oklahoma Rep. Kris Steele said he might not fit the "mold" of an expected commencement speaker: He is an OBU graduate who serves in a Methodist church while working as the Oklahoma Speaker of the House.
Steele drew his address for OBU's Graduate School commencement on Saturday, March 3, from his unique experience, focusing on two topics dear to him: relationships and civility. Twenty-six graduates were honored during the ceremony.
An OBU graduate, Steele earned a bachelor's degree in religion in 1997 with a minor in political science. Following studies at a Baptist seminary and service in a small Baptist church, he completed a master's degree at East Central University. In addition to his duties in the Oklahoma legislature, Steele serves as pastor of Wesley United Methodist Church in Shawnee.
He said a discussion on relationships and civility includes a focus on respect, communication, diversity and humility. He referred to the book, "The Big Sort," by Bill Bishop, which contends that Americans today increasingly are isolating into groups based on religious beliefs, political ideologies and ways of living. Such isolation creates a mindset that oneself is right and others are wrong, resulting in hostility to those who are different -- and the risk of losing civility.
"We can either choose to concentrate on what unites us, or we could concentrate on what divides us," Steele said.
He relayed a story of Mark Twain scrambling to the top of Pike's Peak to see the sunset, but missing it because he was facing the wrong direction.
"I think this is a common problem in life," Steele said. "I think there are so many incredible miracles for us to experience, so many awesome wonders for us to discover, so many phenomenal friendships for us to share, but all too often we miss them because we're looking in the wrong direction. We're focused on the wrong things."
Unity does not just "happen," Steele told the graduates. Rather, he said, achieving unity requires incorporating and practicing attitudes of love, respect, humility, patience, kindness, understanding, diligence, commitment and peacefulness. He said a group of people committed to unity -- or at least committed to civility -- would be refreshing in today's world.
Steele offered practical ideas for achieving unity in society: Concentrate on what is important; celebrate what unites people rather than dwell on what divides; treat others as one wants to be treated; be willing to cry for others and laugh at oneself; never let a day pass without doing something to make life better for someone else; be quick to praise and slow to criticize; and let the love of Christ shine through one's life.
"I challenge you to never stop learning from others, especially those who may be different than you," Steele said. "I challenge you to break out of your usual social circles and your comfort zones. You should always remain true to your convictions, but never hide from the unfamiliar. … In essence, I challenge you to be the generation that brings us together rather than pushes us farther apart.
"Our time on Earth is limited, so we should spend it being united rather than being divided. I urge you to explore the unexplored and to seek out all of life's joy and opportunities. If you do, I believe you'll have the pleasure of seeing your sunrise whenever you reach your mountaintop, wherever it is."
Graduates receiving master of business administration degrees included: Kimberly Berube, Maria Antonieta Canaga, Michael Paul Dickinson, Melissa Ann Bales Fisher, Markesha Ann Gray, Lily Irons, Poonam Manandhar, Benjamin Scott McKinney and Courtney Miller.
A luncheon for the business graduates featured remarks from OBU President Dr. David W. Whitlock and from Dr. David Houghton, dean of the university's Paul Dickinson College of Business. The luncheon also included remarks from Dr. Rich Rudebock, Cargill associate professor of business, graduate Kimberly Berube and Dr. Stan Norman, provost and executive vice president for campus life.
Graduates receiving master of science degrees in nursing included: Pamela Renée Boeck, Casey Jae Cassidy, Simone Marsha-Lee Guthrie, Roberta Carolyn Brown Harris, Leslie Bray Hobbs, Marisa Murray Moore, Lisa Ann Paden, Lenita Marie White Palmer, Jyoti Pandey, Kathlynn S. Smith, Janice Deloise Stanfield, Carie Lee Strauch, Staci Michelle Swim, Marsha L. Tahquechi, Jerrie Cox Tripp, Sheri L. Wainscott and Kiasha Nicole Williams.
The nursing graduates were honored during a pinning ceremony and luncheon. They received a unique pin specifically designed for OBU MSN graduates during a luncheon hosted by Dr. Scott Harris, director of the OBU Graduate School. Whitlock brought greetings and remarks. The pins were presented by Dr. Lana Bolhouse, dean of the college of nursing; Dr. Claudine Dickey, director of residency programs; and Dr. Robbie Henson, professor of nursing.
During the Commencement ceremony, Dr. Anthony Jordan brought greetings from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma and the 1,800 Oklahoma Baptist churches it represents. Jordan, executive director of the BGCO, encouraged the graduates to take Jesus Christ with them into their roles of nursing leadership and business leadership. Dr. Warren McWilliams, Auguie Henry professor of Bible at OBU, read Scripture from Job 28:20-28. The graduates were inducted into the OBU Alumni Association by Lori Hagans, executive director of the association.
In his charge to the graduates, Whitlock reminded the graduates they have the distinction of representing OBU. He charged the graduates to move forward with hope and courage. He challenged them to use what they have learned through their studies as foundation blocks on which to build the rest of their lives. He encouraged them to be prepared to serve others, to walk in faith, and to strive for excellence and quality in every area of life.