Tuesday, May 5, 2009

Commencement speaker pitch-perfect on Saturday

The Reinhardt College class of 2009 was given a major-league sendoff at last Saturday's graduation ceremonies. After graduate Briana Lee Moody charged her fellow classmates to change the world and to "bring hope...whenever possible," Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood introduced the keynote speaker: "a man who is much more than just his fastball," Mr. John Smoltz.
Smoltz, a pitcher with the Boston Red Sox organization (but beloved in this town for his 20 years with the Atlanta Braves), drew applause and cheers when he stated that his heart "will always be in Atlanta."
Smoltz, who noted that Saturday was the first time he'd worn a college cap and gown (he was drafted straight out of high school by the Detroit Tigers), spoke from the heart as he encouraged his audience to pursue "success in Christ," not worldly success. He told about his decision at the age of 7 to pursue a career as a major league baseball pitcher, and the internal drive he felt to be the very best he could. "I wanted to play baseball because I loved it," he said, but he alluded to the temptations some feel when they pursue success for the wrong reasons.
"I stand before you a blessed man, a protected man," he said, speaking of how he avoided the pitfalls of drugs and cheating in professional sports. "I had this map for my life. I got over the hurdles and avoided the issues that were going to get me off that track. Some of my peers have failed...I believe whatever it is they're seeking is not enough."
He shared the stress he used to feel whenever he would fail. "I felt that I had let down my family, let down my team...I was so consumed by the desire to be the best, I was missing the boat." Since he became a born-again Christian in 1996, Smoltz said, "The desire to be the best is still there, but now I have an underlying peace." He urged his listeners not to be afraid of failure, telling them that failure is an essential ingredient in success: "You must fail and learn from your failures."
Ultimate success, he said, is assured through Christ. "When troubles and pressures arise, we are tempted to think that success is unavailable." But for us to be ultimately defeated, he said, we would have to be separated from Christ, and that is impossible.
"What has sealed my success is that apart from anything else, I am sanctified and set apart. In the midst of all your chaos, you can have victory and success, because nothing can separate you from your heavenly Maker. Your God-centered faith will give you the pathway to true, ultimate success." He encouraged his listeners to "know who [their] Master is...everything else is circumstantial."
"Thank you for having me," he said in conclusion, "and I pray for your success."
The Reinhardt College graduates and their guests gave Smoltz a standing ovation, and Dr. Isherwood presented him with a Reinhardt baseball cap to commemorate his visit.
Diplomas were then awarded to those who had earned associate degrees, and then to those who had earned bachelor's degrees. Then Reinhardt history was made with the hooding of the recipients of the college's first master's degrees! It was a momentous day not only for our graduates, but for our entire school, and I for one was very proud to have been present to witness it!
Congratulations again to all the graduates, and thank you again to Mr. John Smoltz for being such a big part of the day and for sharing his "success story" with us.

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