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President Thomas Delivers Annual Convocation Address Aug. 30

August 30, 2023

OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas delivered the annual Convocation address Aug. 30 during chapel. The service took place in the Recreation and Wellness Center on the OBU campus in Shawnee.

Dr. Joy Turner, associate professor of missions, led the opening prayer. Corey Fuller, chair of the Division of Art and Design, Ruth Jay Odom Professor of Fine Arts and professor of graphic design, then offered greetings from the faculty.

Following a scripture reading by Jana VanderTook, director of faculty services and assessment, Student Government Association President Max Petersen then delivered the call to convocation.

Dr. Bret Roark, chair of the Division of Behavioral and Social Sciences and Ralph and Marie Barby Professor of Psychology read the litany, with interactive audience response. Co-Provosts, Dr. Larinee Dennis, chief academic officer and dean of business, health science and education and Dr. Matthew Emerson, dean of theology, arts and humanities, introduced new faculty.

Thomas introduced new staff and presented faculty and staff awards. Dr. Tony Yates, professor of science, received the Distinguished Teaching Award, Dr. Lyda Murillo Wilbur, associate professor of Spanish, received the Promising Teacher Award and VanderTook received the Meritorious Service Award.

Thomas then delivered the Convocation address. His speech was themed “A President’s Prayer,” based on the OBU theme and commitment of “We are future shapers.”

“We are future shapers. This is who we say we are. Our identity,” he said. “We are future shapers. I have been praying and pondering this phrase. Today, I would like to unpack what it could mean—really—for us to be future shapers. It is my prayer. A president’s prayer.”

He did so by examining it from the perspective of a deep faith, full hearts, strong hands and wise minds.

Thomas said that future shapers exhibit deep faith, which is recognition that God has made us, and we belong to God.

“Some of us are following Jesus. Some of us are, let’s say, figuring things out. Some of us are far from faith. Bison community, wherever we identify on the spectrum of faith today, it is this president’s prayer that together we strive for deep faith in Christ Jesus.”

He told students, faculty and staff that full hearts means our eyes are open to the great pain and need in our day. He challenged those in attendance to move from apathy to empathy.

“In our world of selfishness and greed, we long for people with full hearts,” he said. “We need people with compassion. It is this president’s prayer that together we strive for full hearts. But full hearts without action is sentiment and future shapers do not sit on the sideline or talk a good talk without taking action steps to help.”

Thomas stressed that strong hands mean that “we actually do something.” With strong hands we demonstrate in our world skills and abilities that have been honed here at OBU. He told those gathered on Wednesday that what we do provides value to our communities.

He then referenced the EF-2 tornado that struck Shawnee, including the OBU campus, on April 19. Thomas pointed out that there was damage to each building on campus, but thankfully no injuries.

“I know that we will emerge stronger and more resilient than ever before,” he said. “Strong hands. The winds of adversity have the potential to blow us down or lift us up. In your life and mine, I pray that adversity would be a gift that God uses to lift us up to the heights. I pray for strong hands.”

Future shapers also exhibit wise minds. He explained that wisdom is not just “book smart,” it is the ability to discern what is the right and virtuous way for all of life.

“Wisdom is the ability to recognize not just what is possible but what is right in God’s world,” he said. “This distinction between what is possible and what we ought to do is deeply rooted in wisdom. Deep faith, full hearts, strong hands and wise minds. For this next academic year, God, let it be.”

Following the convocation address, Dr. Stephen Sims, Clair McGavern-Nancy Montgomery Associate Professor of Music, along with Dr. Patricia Nelson, chair of the Division of Music, on piano, led the congregation in “The Hymn to the Alma Mater.” Dr. Contessa Edgar, chair of the Division of Science and associate professor of biology, delivered the benediction to conclude the service.