Stillman President Addresses Leadership During Spring Convocation
Stillman held its annual spring convocation on Thursday, January 21, 2010. Although classes began on January 11, this convocation marks the formal beginning of the new semester. Returning and new students received a warm welcome from Student Government Association president, Tiara Gipson and greetings from Dr. Sharon Whittaker, Vice President for Student Affairs.
Stillman President Ernest McNealey delivered the convocation address titled “On Leadership.” During his address, President McNealey led a Litany of Prayer and Remembrance for the survivors of the earthquake in Haiti.
Untold legions of innocent lives were snuffed out, many families torn asunder, and many souls left wounded. "We cannot know the grief of the families, nor mend the troubled minds. The dead slumber in ways that we cannot know, in ways beyond our ability to comfort, in silence that we cannot call them from. Grieve we do, but as we grieve and recognize those lost, we must know that we grieve more for ourselves, and the symbolic loss of our comfort," said McNealey.
As he spoke about leadership, President McNealey offered students several traits of successful leaders: 1) successful leaders are successful communicators; 2) successful leaders are good mechanics; 3) successful leaders are problem-solvers; and 4) successful leaders have a sense of vision. He ended by providing students with the definition of leadership.
“Leadership is the art and science of effectively applied influence that creates movement in a predetermined direction towards a selected goal.”
Spring Convocation Address by President Ernest McNealey
January 21, 2010
Good morning and happy spring semester! As we begin the second half
of the year, I would like to recognize and welcome persons who have
joined the Stillman Family since last semester. As I call your name,
please stand and wave to the audience: Dr. Marcus Jones, professor of
Geography in the Department of Social Sciences – Mr. Damien
Brigham, recruiter in the Office of Admissions – Officer DeAngelo Hall
in the Campus Police Department – and Ms. Gwendolyn Nalls,
Secretary in the Department of Nursing. Of course there are several
other persons new to the College in part-time capacities. We welcome
you as well.
As of today, some 934 students have reported for registration, as
compared to 938 at this point a year ago. There are some 300 classes on
the schedule, with the majority occurring in the Division of Arts and
Sciences. The Thomas E. Lyle Band Center is 98% complete, while the
still to be named tennis center is 70% completed. While there are
challenges, as always, we are blessed to be here and optimistic about the
Before I begin my conversation with you on leadership, I feel compelled
to address the great tragedies in our midst today. On December 17, 2009,
Chris Henry, a wide receiver for the Cincinnati Bengals, died from
injuries received in a fall from a moving vehicle at the age of 26. On
January 14, Jeron Lewis, a basketball player at the University of
Southern Indiana, collapsed during a game and died of heart failure at
the age of 21. On January 17, 2010, Gaines Adams, a lineman with the
Chicago Bears and the 4th player selected in the 2007 NFL draft, died of
heart failure just two weeks after the close of the current regular season.
Four young women from the Mississippi University for Women died in
a fire on a shopping outing in Birmingham over the weekend. The
earthquake and subsequent events in Haiti over the last several days
have been horrific in substance and symbolism. Untold legions of
innocent lives were snuffed out, many families torn asunder, and many
souls left wounded. We cannot know the grief of the families, nor mend
the troubled minds. The dead slumber in ways that we cannot know, in
ways beyond our ability to comfort, in silence that we cannot call them
from. Grieve we do, but as we grieve and recognize those lost, we must
know that we grieve more for ourselves, and the symbolic loss of our
We come into the world alone and we go out alone. While untold
legions may be born and may die at the same moment, each person’s life
and death are unique. Between those two points, the beginning and the
end, we spend our lives trying to connect to others in meaningful ways
and to have others share our joy and our pain in ways that we know
them. But in the final analysis, we find common ground in the symbols
that represent what we know in our own individual ways, and in our
collective humanity. Please join me in symbolic sharing by standing and
participating in the Litany inserted in your program.
LITANY of Prayer and Remembrance
Leader: Blessed are they that mourn, for they shall be comforted.
All: The Lord is my shepherd, I shall not want; He makes me
lie down in green pastures. He leads me beside quiet
waters; He restores my soul.
Leader: For the days shall come upon thee, that thine enemies shall
cast a trench about thee, and compass thee around, and keep
in on every side.
All: He guides me in paths of righteousness for his name’s
Leader: (Thine enemies) … shall lay thee even with the ground, and
their children within thee; and they shall not leave in thee one
stone upon another.
All: Even though I walk through the valley of the shadow of
death, I will fear no evil; for you are with me; your rod
and your staff, they comfort me.
Leader: For I was hungry and you gave me something to eat, I was
thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I needed clothes
and you clothed me;
All: You prepare a table before me in the presence of my
enemies; you anoint my head with oil; my cup flows over.
Leader: Blessed are they that are persecuted for righteousness sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
All: Surely goodness and love shall follow me all the days of
my life; and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.
Thank you. Please be seated.
In the early days of human exploration, man discovered a bright star in
the northern night sky that was always there and unchanging. Whether
on a ship at sea or crossing a burning desert, by charting the journey
against the constant North Star, travelers could always find their way.
While the world’s sky may be covered with blackness, I hope that your
sky remains clear. Toward that end, I will discuss the topic of leadership
with you this morning. Over the next few minutes, I will share with you
the Traits of Successful Leaders and suggest a number of examples of
leadership for your consideration.
Each of us was a gift from God to our parents as our lives began. As we
came to know the world, we became a gift to ourselves. We experience
the world as solo travelers, who in order to find and share meaning, seek
affiliations with others. Of course the first “others” are members of our
own families and whether our relationships are good or bad or
indifferent, they are directional, essential, and elemental. The question
of leadership then, becomes one of how we relate to others outside of
our own home.
Let me share with you a real case of improper relating. A friend of
mine, who is a superintendent in another state, had a son who was an
only child. From the time he was in elementary school, the son craved
the favor and approval of other children. By high school, his desire to
be popular led to many misadventures with the “cool” students in the incrowd.
Notwithstanding all of the advantages that his parents had
provided, he sought to behave like those students whose parents were
too busy with survival issues. Love, counseling, and caring by my
friend and his wife could not dissuade their son from following others,
rather than building mutual relationships. A few years ago, he was
riding in a speeding car with a friend that his father had warned him
about hanging out with. As fate would have it, the blue lights of a police
car began to flash in back of them. Before stopping, the driver pulled a
bag of drugs from under his seat and asked the superintendent’s son to
help him eat them so that police would not find them. He did so. The
driver of the car, the friend whose acceptance had been sought, went
home with just a speeding ticket. Later that evening, my friend’s son
went into convulsions and died of a drug overdose.
As a person, your first task of leadership is to master yourself. The
desire to be liked or to be popular can cause you to lose yourself to gain
gratification that others control. In each of you, there is a north star set
in the heavens of your mind to guide you. In the rush of making new
friends and keeping old ones, the task of personal leadership is to keep
your bearing, to navigate by the star that is your special gift. Leaders
must first, lead themselves.
As life progresses, you may be called upon to lead an organization or
group. Or you may seek a group whose members would like you to lead
them. No matter how intelligent, how confident, or how people-oriented
you are, not every opportunity to lead will be a good match, whether you
are seeking it, or whether you are being sought. You have heard the
literary expression, “a man for all seasons.” There is no such thing! Be
guided by your north star and arrive at the right time and the right place
for you. As you arrive at the right time and place, the question must be,
“How do I lead successfully?” When asked that question, the famed
entertainer Bill Cosby replied “I don’t know the key to success, but the
key to failure is trying to please everybody.”
So, let me share with you, free of charge, the traits of successful leaders:
• Successful leaders are successful communicators. Not only do
they have a good command of language, but also their language
captures what people care about and what moves them. Presidents
Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton were elected to two terms,
notwithstanding significant problems, because they were masterful
• Successful leaders are good mechanics. They know the structure,
the rules, and the processes of how things work. They can operate
the system and convince others to do so as well. Coaches like Nick
Saban and politicians like President Lyndon Johnson rose to their
heights because they knew how to work the system.
• Successful leaders are problem-solvers. They can take what is
known and bring new ideas that facilitate the functionality and
aspirations of the group. Barack Obama presented himself as such,
and was elected President of the United States. And, finally,
• Successful leaders have a sense of vision. They not only know
where the group might be headed, but can articulate a future
destination that lies beyond the horizon. Successful college
presidents and movement leaders like Dr. Martin Luther King
present possibilities and destinations that are not readily apparent.
DEFINED: Leadership is the art and science of effectively applied
influence that creates movement in a predetermined direction towards a
selected goal. As a member of the Stillman Community, you have an
extraordinary opportunity to lead and to grow. In a world that is running
over with the pathology of privilege that gives rise to injustice, and in a
society where the pathology of entitlement gives rise to irresponsible
conduct, there are many places and opportunities to exert leadership.
Whether you are the drum major, the trumpeter, or the flute player, be
outspoken in favor of social justice and that which serves the greater
good. Whether you are at the front or the back of the band, march in
step while listening to your internal drumbeat. Lead others by first
learning to lead yourself.
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