In the flurry of festivities marking the historic inauguration of Dr. Timothy L. Smith as the fourth president of University of Mobile, one special moment stands out.
It was the moment when over 300 students who had gathered in Ram Hall for a student-led praise and worship service encircled Smith and his wife, Penney, laying hands on the couple and praying for them, their family, and wisdom in the daily decisions the new president will make. At 6’4”, Smith stood head and shoulders above the crush of students, head bowed, in an emotional moment marked by a spirit of unity that permeated the entire four-day celebration.
UM Board of Trustees Chairman Deborah Nelson ’76 expressed the significance of the inauguration in her opening remarks a few days later at the inauguration and investiture ceremony March 24, 2017, at Cottage Hill Baptist Church in Mobile.
“It is a joyful day of celebration as well as the formal recognition of the beginning of a new era for University of Mobile,” Nelson said. “It is a day filled with all the pageantry and symbolism of an academic tradition that spans centuries. It is the culmination of a week of celebration, of elegant dinners and picnics on the lawn, of praise and worship, of laughter and shared experiences that create the memories and bonds that are such a treasured part of the university experience.”
She continued, “I find a special joy in welcoming you to celebrate a moment that we believe is inspired by God, guided by Him, and orchestrated by His hand. This is not our University of Mobile – it is God’s university – it is His instrument – a place set aside for the special purpose of preparing students to fulfill God’s personal and professional calling upon their lives.”
The UM Board of Trustees unanimously selected Smith as president on April 11, 2016. As is customary in higher education, the formal inauguration of the president occurred within the first year of his tenure.
The celebration began Tuesday, March 21, with Night of Prayer, a student-led praise and worship service in Ram Hall.
“Lord, we pray for Dr. Smith. We thank you for what it means to have a leader who chooses Christ daily,” prayed Cam Ulmer, a junior majoring in worship leadership and philosophy who was part of the student Chapel Band that led worship.
They prayed for revival on campus, for students to finish the school year strong, and for the university’s leadership. Near the close of the two-hour service, Smith called faculty and staff to the stage.
“We don’t come to stand before you; we come to stand with you,” Smith told students. “We come to help you understand…that God is real. That what we did tonight, what we do every day at this institution, is about coming to understand Christ, coming to understand who He is, and coming to understand how we can be transformed by Him.”
On Wednesday, faculty and staff gathered at Bedsole Commons in front of J.L. Bedsole Library for a faculty/staff picnic and the first Rammy Awards. Drs. Al Miller and Ted Mashburn presented 25 tongue-in-cheek awards, voted upon by faculty and staff, that included such honors as the Duct Tape Award for being able to fix just about anything, the Early Bird Award for always being first in the office, the Mac & Molly Award for the most school spirit, and the Gumby Award for being most flexible in any situation.
Thursday’s event was “Dinner Under the Stars” for dignitaries and out-of-town guests. Ram Hall was transformed into an elegant banquet hall beneath a starry sky. Dr. Lonnie Burnett ’79 spoke about the university’s history and the purpose of Christian higher education. Prior to the dinner, guests toured campus on horse-drawn carriages.
With the theme, “A New Day, A New Journey” and a formal celebration that drew university presidents from across the nation, University of Mobile inaugurated its fourth president on Friday, March 24, 2017.
In his inaugural address, Smith said the purpose of Christian higher education is to equip men and women in preparation for the Great Commission, the biblical charge in Matthew 28:19 to “go therefore and make disciples of all nations.”
“This is a calling for us inside the walls of this 800-acre campus of University of Mobile, and in every Christian university throughout this country. We are called to mentor students within their discipline in equipping the student intellectually and spiritually in fulfilling the Great Commission calling in becoming a disciple of Christ in the home, church and workplace in leading others to seek Him,” Smith said.
He related the story of Philip and the Ethiopian eunuch, found in Acts 8:26-35, in which Philip explained Scripture and told of Jesus Christ, a conversation that led to the eunuch’s conversion to Christianity.
“This is exactly the mission of University of Mobile – we are here to teach and preach about Jesus as a Christ-centered academic community providing liberal arts and professional programs to renew minds through intellectual and spiritual development for the fulfilling of one’s professional calling,” Smith said.
He said the vision he will strive to bring forward is that Jesus Christ continues to be strengthened as the theological core of a university that is built on biblical premises, where academic rigor is integrated with intellectual development and intentional spiritual enrichment, so that the university becomes a premier Christ-centered academic community providing comprehensive liberal arts and professional programs to distinctively transform the world.
He cited Proverbs 9:10, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom…” which describes our calling to Him; Genesis 1:26, “Then God said Let Us make man in Our image, according to Our likeness…” which describes who we are in Him; and Romans 12:20, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may provide what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God” which describes our transformation by Him.
“As students undergo this transformational process that is theologically focused on Christ while theoretically balanced with a rich intellectual and spiritual educational process; a caring, mentoring and expansive co-curricular environment that enhances the student’s walk in Christ; and a partnership with the churches and community that continues to shape the minds and hearts of the students, the goal that God has called us to will be achieved,” Smith said.
“Yes, the core values of University of Mobile in being Christ-centered, academically-focused, student-devoted and, because of these, distinctively-driven, will have been fulfilled at University of Mobile just as Philip fulfilled the calling on his life of teaching the eunuch. Yes, we will have preached Jesus Christ,” Smith concluded.
The full address is posted online at umobile.edu/inauguralspeech. Information about Smith is at umobile.edu/newpresident.
The celebration concluded with an Inaugural Gala at The Steeple on St. Francis in downtown Mobile. Students, faculty, staff and invited dignitaries celebrated with a Spring gala of music, dancing and hors d’oeuvres.