Standing in the chapel named for his father, John Wesley Raley Jr. challenged students to consider the exceptional nature of America -- and, in many ways, the similar nature of OBU -- during the Fall Convocation Wednesday, Aug. 29.
OBU President Dr. David W. Whitlock presented Raley with an honorary doctor of humanities degree during the 10 a.m. event in the University's Raley Chapel. The Convocation signaled the beginning of the 2012-13 academic year on Bison Hill.
In addition to his two sons who attended the ceremony, Raley noted two others joined him in spirit, noting two significant but small remembrances to his parents, John Wesley Raley Sr. and Helen Thames Raley, which can be found in the elaborate stained glass windows gracing Raley Chapel's Potter Auditorium. The Raleys served as president and first lady of OBU from 1934-61. Raley Jr. earned a bachelor's degree in history and English from OBU in 1954 and a juris doctorate from the University of Oklahoma College of Law.
His mother, Raley noted, was a talented author and gifted concert pianist. She had an astonishing memory for students' names and their hometowns. She also was a faithful champion of the University.
"Through dust, depression, debt and war, she stood in faithful support of my father's heroic outpouring of energy in preserving the very existence of this institution," Raley said. "She played a prominent role in those golden post-War years when a dedicated faculty was greatly expanded to accommodate a booming student enrollment, when endowment was increased and full academic accreditation was achieved. Those were the days when the slush of mortar and the clink of brick and marble were heard prominently on the campus."
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Raley said he would wear with enormous pride the hood representing the honorary doctor of humanities degree. In accepting the doctorate, he dedicated it to his mother, the former first lady, Helen Thames Raley.
In his charge to the students, Raley called upon the student body "to accept the profound reality that America is -- and remains to this hour -- exceptional among the nations of the world," despite recent suggestions that no distinction exists between the United States and other countries. He noted the United States was founded as a unique and noble experiment of self-governance, and that it remains preeminent in its commitment to world peace and the sacred idea of liberty for all.
While existing in perilous times, with a nearly insurmountable debt and unemployment rates, Raley said he remains convinced that America, ultimately, will prevail. He said he believes the United States will regain influence and universal respect, as well as being re-established as a world leader.
"America … remains the best hope for those huddled and frightened masses crying out for peace," Raley said, noting the United States is a blessed, unique nation built on initiative, fortitude, sacrifice, a resolve to strive for the best, a sense of personal responsibility and a love for the country.
"In much the same way and for many of the same reasons, Bison Hill is also exceptional," Raley said. "It is most likely that one of the major reasons for your enrolling in OBU is to accept a very unique quality found on this campus -- a factor which sets it apart from many of our sister institutions of higher learning. That measure of difference is the emphasis here upon Christian education and Christian living. The values centered upon the teachings of Jesus of Nazareth are the focal point of life at OBU and the central theme of every discipline of study."
For almost four-score years, Raley called OBU home. He would freely roam the expanse of campus with his Boston bulldog, Mickey, and he marched around the Oval behind the khaki-clad U.S. Army Air Corps soldiers during the War. He struggled through trigonometry and reveled in literature classes in Shawnee Hall. Although dispatched around the world from time to time, Raley said he always returns in his reverie to OBU: a sanctuary of study, a campus of tranquility, a treasure-trove of fond memories, a home.
"In the not-too-distant future, as the shades of evening fall -- as inevitably they will and wherever I may be -- my thoughts will return to this sacred place," Raley said. "I will pause, reflect and then whisper a grateful prayer that God bless OBU."
In his presidential comments, Whitlock said the new academic year at OBU commences with celebration of the lives of faculty, staff and students God has assembled on Bison Hill from across the country and around the world for the purpose of transforming lives.
"We gather to pursue academic excellence, to integrate faith with all areas of knowledge, to engage a diverse world and to live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ," Whitlock said, relaying the OBU mission statement. "This shared mission is a sacred trust born of the University's founders, maintained through 102 years of diligent sacrifice and toil of faculty and staff, and made possible by the One in Whom all things hold together."
Whitlock said OBU's founders envisioned a coeducational institution in an environment where many leaders only saw value in the education of young men. OBU's founders envisioned a liberal arts curriculum, preparing Christian catalysts in education, science, commerce, arts and ministry in all areas of society and culture, where others only planned to prepare graduates for pastoral ministry. OBU's founders dreamed of a University built on the Christian intellectual tradition, integrating mind, body and soul as opposed to secular models which provided education devoid of the great answers found in a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.
"Our purpose in higher education at a distinctively Christian university is to reach higher, to settle for no less than excellence," Whitlock said. "Advancing our mission, be it in our role as faculty or students, is to embrace Christ's commandment to love the Lord our God with all our heart, with all our soul, with all our mind and with all our strength."
Whitlock reflected on a speech given by Dr. Raley Sr. in 1935, as president of OBU on the University's 25th anniversary, in which he stated his dream for his own son's education one day on Bison Hill. Whitlock said Raley was ahead of his time in promoting a great Christian education tradition. Raley wanted his boy to study science with investigation, but also with a professor who proclaimed, "God created the heavens and the earth and all that is in them." Raley wanted his son to study literature, but also to know the supreme literature springs from the heart of God in the Bible. Raley wanted his son to interpret the progress of man, while acknowledging history will culminate in the coming of the Kingdom of God. He wanted his son to learn music, but also to have the harmony of God in his soul. He wanted his son to appreciate art, but while studying the masterpieces, also to remember that it is the hand of God that paints the sunset and colors the rose.
"Dr. Raley understood well our mission," Whitlock said.
"Our duty, students, is to study, to learn, to dig deep into our disciplines," he said. "We have a charge to steward the gifts of our intellect in humility and in a manner worthy of the Lord who is Architect and Founder of science, Artist and Dramatist, the Master Teacher and Great Physician and Counselor, all clothed in the humble garb of a carpenter willing to sweat and work and carry out the tough assignments.
"So faculty, challenge our students to be their best, to give their utmost in their responsibility to love the Lord their God with their minds. And students, dare to ask the tough questions of the faculty. They can handle it. Probe their minds, their intellects, their knowledge and wisdom -- they're not afraid of those tough questions that inevitably come in a pursuit of answers, knowledge, wisdom and truth."
As OBU begins the 2012-13 academic year, Whitlock said his prayer is the campus community will march forward in unity, and that each person will be faithful to his or her charge as learners, teachers and followers of Jesus Christ.