Published on May 1, 2017 by Olivia Williams  
Last Lecture 2017

Samford University hosted a “Last Lecture” panel May 1 for the graduating class of 2017, where four faculty members imparted spiritual, professional and personal wisdom. The event was planned by the Student Government Association senior class representatives, and the Office of Alumni Programs and Annual Giving. It was part of the ongoing Senior Giving Campaign. 

“I am so excited to assist in hosting the Last Lecture event,” said senior psychology major Julia Jordan-Lake. “We are hoping that students are able to learn about life outside the classroom from these four faculty and staff members who have taught us so much.” 

Students were able to nominate their favorite teachers, and four nominees were asked to be part of the event. The panel included Denise Gregory, director of diversity and intercultural initiatives and assistant professor of chemistry; R. Philip Kimrey, vice president for student affairs and enrollment management; Jeffery M. Leonard, assistant professor of religion; and Jeanna Westmoreland, lecturer in Foundations. 

During the hour-long panel, faculty members discussed a variety of topics, including their personal experiences following their own graduations, advice they would have given their younger selves, and lessons they have learned in and outside the classroom. 

“It is an extreme honor to be among a highly accomplished group of colleagues to be chosen by the senior class to give the Last Lecture,” Gregory said. “My hope is that years from now, members of the senior class will reflect on this time that they will spend together by listening to words of wisdom, and realize that God’s grace and mercy has brought each of us through.” 

Gregory shared encouragement from Proverbs 16, and reminded soon-to-be-graduates that “life has a way of taking those new directions and turning them into opportunities.” 

Kimrey echoed Gregory’s sentiments. “This is an incredible honor to be asked to speak at the Last Lecture event for our students. My words will hopefully convey that we should listen for His voice, especially when we are unsure of our steps and seek to know the people we encounter.” 

Kimrey shared a personal anecdote with students about his time spent working at a gas station after college. It was there where he learned valuable life skills about serving others that he still applies in his work today. 

“Our focus was on quality customer service, regardless of how much money they spent, the attitude they displayed or what they said,” Kimrey said. “We were to be kind, courteous and provide an experience encouraging them to return next time they needed service.” 

Leonard began his comments with humor. “You have made it to be graduating seniors. You have swept through four years of Step Sing. You ate a balanced diet of Steel City Pops, Chick-fil-A and Taco Mama, and you not only survived the Snowpocalypse, but you loved the Snowpocalypse.” 

Leonard reminded students about what a precious and rare commodity time is, and to cherish it in the days to come. He reflected on Ecclesiastes 12:1, reminding students to “remember your Creator now.” 

“It is a great honor to be asked to speak to seniors,” said Westmoreland. “Despite the fact that I graduated 36 years ago, I hope my words will convey that there are common lessons—lessons we all learn as we pass through the major milestone of graduating from college.”  

Westmoreland laughed with students as she reflected on U.S. milestones from her graduation year, 1981. Among those included the inauguration of President Ronald Reagan, the birth of pop stars Justin Timberlake and Brittany Spears, and the successful launch and return of the first space shuttle. “No matter when you graduate, 1981 or 2017, we have a shared experience.” 

Olivia Williams is a graduating senior in journalism and mass communication and a news and feature writer in the Division of Marketing and Communication.

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.