2011 Fall Convocation - "I Am What I Intend to Be"
September 9, 2011 Fall Convocation Birthright Auditorium
Message by the President
Ernest McNealey, Ph.D.
I Am What I Intend to Be
Revisit with me the story of Moses leading the Israelites out of Egypt to the Promised Land. When Moses said to God, “Suppose I go to the Israelites and say to them, “The God of your fathers has sent me to you,” and they ask me, ‘What is his name?’ Then what shall I tell them?”
God said to Moses, “I AM WHO I AM. This is what you are to say to the Israelites: ‘I AM has sent me to you.”
God also told Moses to say to the Israelites, “The LORD, the God of your fathers—the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac and the God of Jacob—has sent me to you. This is my name forever, the name you shall call me from generation to generation.”
Names matter! They matter on many levels, with varying degrees of meaning and complexity. Freshmen are inducted into the Stillman Family with a ceremony of light and naming. Each student walks across this very stage and says to all assembled, “I AM John White,” “I AM Aiesha Johnson,” and so on. During that confirmation ceremony, we recount Jesus asking his disciples “Who is it that they say I AM?” as an illustration of the transcendant meaning in naming. It was through teaching, healing, and miracles that the name of Jesus took its real meaning among his followers, and ultimately elevated it to the core of one of the world’s great religions. I AM, the light of the world, Jesus said.
So, on this late summer Thursday morning, what is the point of this discussion? It is simply this: Each person assembled here today has the freedom to choose, and choices—not chance, not circumstance—will determine the name that we can rightfully claim. We can choose to be winners or victims, happy or sad. The choice resides in the power of saying, “I AM.”
When you put negativities after I AM, as in "I AM sick," or "I AM unhappy,” I AM a failure at Math," you limit your possibilities. Your Path forward will be built by the choices you make after the words, I AM.
“I AM the greatest,” Muhammad Ali said, “and I said that even before I knew I was.” “I AM playing to win,” said Michael Jordan, “whether during practice or a real game. And I will not let anything get in the way of me and my competitive enthusiasm to win. You have to expect things of yourself before you can do them.”
Most of you know well the biblical story of Adam and Eve, the first man and woman on Earth. It is a classic example of I AM a victim. Whether you think of the story as fact or metaphor, you will recall that the serpent Satan convinced the woman, Eve, to eat an apple from the forbidden tree. Notwithstanding the absolute prohibition from God, she took and bit the apple before passing it along to Adam, who promptly took an even bigger bite. When God confronted Adam about this disobedience, he immediately claimed that it was Eve’s idea. Turning to Eve for her explanation, she admitted that she was the culprit, but said it was the serpent’s fault; he made me do it. Of course, you know the rest of the story. They were banished from the Garden of Eden, the serpent was cursed, and sin came into the world.
Notice that when confronted with the consequences of their choices, Adam pointed the finger at Eve, and Eve claimed to be the hapless victim of the serpent. What is clear is they had choices, made the wrong choices, and declared themselves victims of others, rather than what they chose to do. They were never able to recapture the happiness they had known, not only because of the first sin, but also because of the second sin of declaring I AM a victim.
As we begin this new year of endless possibilities, I urge you to join me in embracing the power of positive affirmation. Coach Keaton said me in an email to me a year ago, “I AM a winner.” After the Atheltics Director recommended him, we chose to hire him, and on last Saturday, he won his first game as a college head coach against a nationally ranked team. Coach did not say to us, “I hope to win or I am going to work hard to win.” Rather, he declared, “I AM.”
In matters large and small, let us use the beginning of this new academic year to affirm the power of positive choices:
- Faculty members, decree, “I AM an effective engaging professor.”
- Staff members, declare, “I AM a reliable productive staff member.”
- Students, proclaim, “I AM a successful student. I go to class every day on-time, I study hard, I complete assignments when due, and I perform at the highest level on exams.
Only God can declare I AM That I AM. Each of us must make choices to be Who and What we Intend to Be. The journey begins with the declaration, “I AM…”
And, I AM done. Thank you very much and Godspeed.
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