William S. “Sandy” Stimpson, mayor of Mobile, Alabama, was awarded the honorary Doctor of Humane Letters at the University of Mobile’s 49th commencement ceremonies May 14. Mayor Stimpson was the keynote speaker at the Mobile Convention Center. Following is his commencement address, titled “Now Go Change the World.”
Good morning! For the past 19 years, in private conversations and while standing behind podiums, Dr. Mark Foley has challenged University of Mobile students with this statement: “Now, go change the world!”
Members of the Board of Trustees, Dr. & Mrs. Foley, esteemed faculty, honored guests, family members and graduates, this morning it is my honor to briefly amplify upon the University of Mobile’s stated intention of “Changing lives to change the world!”
Have you ever wondered why Dr. Foley’s charge is to go change the world? Of the countless challenges available – why, “Now, go change the world”? Without having asked him, I’m going to take a bold risk and tell you why I think he does.
There are two fundamental reasons: The first is, because it aligns with the mission or intent of the University and as its President, it is simply his responsibility. The second, and possibly the more important one, is because he is trusting that you will change it in a manner that aligns with Christian principles.
Every day, whether you are asleep or awake, people are doing things to change the world – unfortunately, not everyone is trying to change it for the better. Their agendas will impact you and your way of life, possibly in a negative way. We all recognize a battle is being waged. As a University of Mobile graduate you have been uniquely prepared to change it for the better.
While studying here you’ve learned that it will take Biblical knowledge and spiritual awareness combined with personal responsibility to be effective. You have learned the roles that prayer, faith, trust, honesty and discipline play.
Knowing Dr. Foley as I do, the first assumption I make is that he’s not suggesting that you go just change the world a little bit. No, both he and I want you to change it a lot. We know that it won’t be easy and that the odds are you will be outnumbered and working against the accepted behaviors of society. Nevertheless, we both know that you are called to do this. When teamed with God, one person can be a majority!
I once read how to determine God’s will for your life. You simply answer the question: What ignites your heart? Forgotten orphans – then help raise them! You love animals –then nurture them! Do you hurt for the lost – then teach them! Do you ache for the ill – then treat them! Most people who are dissatisfied and discouraged feel that way because they haven’t grasped a vision for themselves.
When you were born, God created you to do something extraordinary. Throughout your life He has been equipping you with everything you needed to complete the task. Along the way, you may have stumbled; others may have discouraged or belittled you. These seeds of doubt have possibly shaken your confidence.
For those whose confidence may have been shaken, I hope that you realize that today is a new beginning; a day to re-ignite your engine, to accept a bold new challenge. I’m excited and I hope you are.
Up to this day, you have been challenged to make good grades, win athletic contests and give superlative performances on the stage. You’ve risen to the occasion. Some of you have overcome incredible odds to be sitting here as graduates. Your time at the University of Mobile has been part of preparing you to change the world.
So how are you going to change it? Will you invent something? Cure diseases or broker peace? Maybe you will thwart someone’s plans to do evil. Or you will pray the prayer of salvation with a lost soul. Or will your contribution to changing the world simply be being an encourager to someone who will do these things?
As you embark on your journey, remember that no one is capable of doing transformative things by themselves. To make a significant change or contribution, you will need to be partnering with others, so align yourself with other courageous men and women. People who are passionate about aligning with God’s will to improve the quality of life for all mankind.
When you are about to step out to do something significant or profound, you may think yourself unqualified or unprepared. But, in your uncertainty, if you sense God is calling, my hope is that you will recall the insightful and challenging words of Pastor A.W. Tozer. “God is looking for people through whom he can do the impossible – what pity that we plan to do only the things we can do by ourselves.”
In preparing you, the University of Mobile is not suggesting you change the world by doing things you can do by yourselves – change it by allowing God to use you. Don’t settle for just changing it just a little bit – think about how you are going to significantly impact it in a profound way. Have a bold vision! We are all created to improve the condition of mankind.
“Throughout the ages, naysayers have said that it couldn’t be done – the task too big, the problems too great. But when God’s men and women have joined together for special tasks, they have solved huge problems and accomplished great goals. Regardless of what you think, the challenges we face today are no greater than those faced by previous societies.
“Don’t let your perception of the size of a task or the length of time needed to accomplish it keep you from doing it. With God’s help it can be done.” (NIV Life Application Study Bible, Footnote: Jeremiah 6:15). Think Nehemiah – the Jewish leader of the 5th century who returned to Jerusalem with the third group of exiles to rebuild the wall around the city.
This impossible feat was accomplished in 52 days “against incredible odds because he learned that there is no success without risk of failure, no reward without hard work, no opportunity without criticism; and no true leadership without trust in God.” (NIV Life Application Study Bible, Footnote: Jeremiah 13:31)
Graham Cook, the British author, may have expressed it best when he said, “God has not called you to do the things you can do. He has called you to do the things you’ll never do in a million years. You are not able to do what God has called you to do. Only He can do it.”
I’m reminded of Luke 17:33 – Those who try to keep their lives will lose them. But those who give up their lives will save them. The footnote in my Bible to this verse reads: “Christ’s return will happen suddenly, and when he comes there will be no second chances. Some will be taken to be with Him, and others will be left behind.”
So, in the meantime, do you choose option one – the voice of safety; or option two – the voice of adventure? I challenge you to not listen to the whines of those who have settled for a second rate life and want you to do the same so they won’t feel guilty.
In closing, if you are following God’s promptings then step out. Be bold – start a business! Be courageous – join the military! Be adventuresome – teach in another country! Or just change careers – run for mayor! Yes, you will make a difference! You are going forth from here today to change the world. Sure, your journey may not be safe, but it never has been!”