Published on August 17, 2020 by Sean Flynt  
Graduates Angel Sims and Heath Padgett offered the Commencement Address and Farwell.

Samford University’s Howard College of Arts and Sciences presented 273 undergraduate and graduate degrees Aug. 15 in an online ceremony necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although unprecedented in schedule and format, it was in many ways typical of the university’s annual celebration of the graduating class. University officials and class leaders in academic regalia honored the Class of 2020, offered words of encouragement and farewell and, most importantly, read the names of the graduates as if the students were present on the stage instead of watching online as their families cheered their great accomplishment.

“I share your regret that we were not able to meet in person, and I feel it especially keenly because four years ago you and I started at Samford University together,” college dean Tim Hall told the graduates. “In August of 2016, you and I were trying to figure out the ropes together, meeting hundreds of new people, trying to find our way to unfamiliar buildings and getting used to new routines.” Hall praised the students’ perseverance and growth in confidence, knowledge and ability, and praised those who supported their achievement. “You’ve enjoyed the help of parents, family, friends and faculty, and I share their pride in your accomplishments, and your gratitude to them for you their support and guidance,” he said. Hall also recognized and thanked retiring college faculty Mark Bagget, David Chapman, Henry Glotfelty and Lynda Jentsch.

Who Do You Want To Be? 

Psychology graduate Angel Sims presented the college’s commencement address. In addition to her studies, Sims co-founded and co-produced the Samford School of the Arts Diversity Series, held multiple offices in the Student Government Association, and served as a Samford Ambassador and worker in the Office of Diversity and Intercultural Initiatives. In her address, she challenged her classmates to think about their individual role in in the history unfolding around them, and compared the current social turmoil to the high-stakes historical setting of Hamilton the Musical.

To personalize a story from the revolutionary era, Sims invited her audience to think of themselves in relation to key characters in the popular musical. As portrayed on stage, she said, Aaron Burr is passive and content to sit in the inoffensive middle of the road. The firebrand Alexander Hamilton is his opposite, making his opinions known to all. “In today’s terms, he would be the person who created the post that everyone is reposting,” Sims said. “He would be the one on Facebook who made his opinions known five days before the general public knew what was happening.” Sims said the character of Angelica Schuyler is “quick to listen and slow to speak,” seeking diverse views on the problems of her age and weighing them carefully before reaching a conclusion. “Today, Angelicas are a bit hard to find until you’re having a personal conversation,” Sims said.

“We were trying to graduate when alternate realities were discovered,” Sims told her classmates. The COVID-19 pandemic disrupted almost every aspect of life, the U.S. government acknowledged evidence of UFOs, and many Americans were awakened to injustice through the Black Lives Matter movement. “We all saw protests and riots and demonstrations sparked by the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and dozens, if not hundreds, of other names,” Sims said. “We are watching our country engage more socially and politically than ever before, at least in our lifetime."

"We would be naïve to not consider what we want our role in history to be,” Sims said. Would she and her classmates be passive like Burr, active like Hamilton, pensive like Schuyler, or some combination of these? “At the end of the day,” Sims said, “when someone’s doing a research paper on the class of 2020, or when your children ask about the global pandemic that plagued your senior year of college, or when you’re looking back over your life, who do you want to be?”

A New Vision

Biology graduate heath Padgett was active in the Student Government Association and served as 2019-2020 Student Body president. He also held leadership positions in many clubs on campus, including the Samford Crew team and the Samford Pre-dental Society. In his farewell address to his class, he echoed Sims’ challenge to develop clear personal vision in the midst of turmoil.

“We see injustice, civil unrest, the coronavirus, economic collapse, and many more things that try to distract and blind us from having a vision,” Padgett said. “However, it is in times like these that vision is most important.”

As in the age of Alexander Hamilton, the disruption of old ways holds promise for new ones. “People’s habits due to the pandemic have all but been erased—whether it’s spending habits, religious habits, political habits, personal habits, or anything else we were used to before, the way we went about in the world before the virus has fundamentally changed,” Padgett observed. “As we recover and return to some sense of normal, it will be visionaries who ultimately shape the trajectory of new norms.” “The world is ripe for those with vision,” Padgett said as he bid farewell to the class he hopes will lead in the creation of a new world.

Samford President Andrew Westmoreland announced that psychology and Spanish double major Theresa Andrzejewski earned the 2020 President's Cup, presented to the graduating student with the highest undergraduate GPA across all Samford colleges and schools. He then offered his own farewell to the class.

“We’ve given you our best," Westmoreland said. "Now, into a broken, beautiful world–a world of strife and hope and promise, in need of healing–use what you gained here and multiply it one hundredfold. May God bless each step, each day.”

Samford is a leading Christian university offering undergraduate programs grounded in the liberal arts with an array of nationally recognized graduate and professional schools. Founded in 1841, Samford is the 87th-oldest institution of higher learning in the United States. Samford enrolls 5,791 students from 49 states, Puerto Rico and 16 countries in its 10 academic schools: arts, arts and sciences, business, divinity, education, health professions, law, nursing, pharmacy and public health. Samford fields 17 athletic teams that compete in the tradition-rich Southern Conference and ranks 6th nationally for its Graduation Success Rate among all NCAA Division I schools.