October 24, 2009
Good morning, and welcome to Fall Convocation. I would like to extend a special welcome to the parents and other family members who are here for Family Weekend-you are part of what makes this Davidson gathering so special. I also want to salute the members of the Class of 2010. Now, Laura and Brandon, you need some help from someone who knows how to count days. Laura, I guess you didn't count summers, but the fact is that today is the 1,164th day since you, the Class of 2010, arrived at first-year orientation, and you have only 204 days left until commencement. Remember, however, that even after the 204 days pass, you will forever be part of our Davidson family.
You may have noticed that the Frasier Stage here in the Duke Family Performance Hall is not really set up for an academic convocation. That is because I have always wanted to give a speech in front of our nation's capitol building. I never imagined it quite like this. Actually, I am just taking advantage of what is the set for the Theatre Department's first main-stage production of the year, Molière's Tartuffe with a contemporary twist. If you are here without little ones, I encourage you to catch the performance tonight at eight-it is a funny and provocative comedy classic starring many of our talented students.
My task is to introduce our convocation speaker. I must begin with a short personal story. When I first told my daughter, Mary Kathryn, who was a student under Dr. Kuykendall and a religion major, that I had accepted the position I now hold at Davidson she asked how I felt. I told her I was overwhelmed and was not sure I could do the job. She said, "Oh, Dad; don't worry, Dr. Kuykendall lives within walking distance and you can just go ask him. He always knows the answer." She was so right. So it is truly a personal honor for me to introduce to you Davidson's President Emeritus, John Wells Kuykendall.
Fifty years ago this year, John was student body president at this special place. His leadership led to the establishment of the student-elected honor council that we recognized in this year's Celebration of Honor and Integrity here at Davidson. After earning degrees from Union Theological Seminary and Yale Divinity School, John served as campus pastor at Auburn University. He then earned two more degrees from Princeton University, where he also served as campus pastor, before returning to Auburn to teach religion. John became Davidson's 15th president in 1984. During his 13years as president, John articulated and carried out a vision for Davidson that helped establish the college's national prominence in academics and athletics. His contributions include spearheading a $150-million- capital campaign that actually raised $163 million, something that no college our size had ever done. He did all of this and more as president while also teaching in the religion department, a post he held for six additional years following his presidency.
I could continue on for hours, if not days, listing John's many accomplishments and contributions, but that is not possible. That said, I do not think it matters so much that I cannot list all of John's many accomplishments, because what we are here to recognize particularly today is the manner in which he has accomplished all that he has undertaken. For John, academia was never a career;it was a vocation. The quintessential servant-leader, he approached every challenge with the perfect blend of wisdom, humility and humor, and along the way earned the respect-no, the devotion-of the entire Davidson college community. Asked once what he saw as Davidson's greatest challenge, John responded without hesitation that it was not to screw up the bright, curious, energetic students who are the heart of the college. I daresay he met that challenge and then some.
There are three great loves in John Kuykendall's life: his Lord, Davidson College, and his family. His family is here today to help him celebrate the conferment of the honorary degree. In addition to John's immediate family--his beloved wife, Missy, and his two sons and their families--we are honored to have with us a number of his extended family. I am referring to the Missy and John W. Kuykendall Scholars, a group of students recognized for exhibiting the kind of servant leadership that characterized John's presidency. Thank you all for joining us today.
And now, please join me in welcoming one of the most distinguished members of the Davidson family, President Emeritus and Thatcher Professor Emeritus of Religion, John Wells Kuykendall.