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Africa University grads urged to make a difference

United Methodist Bishop Woodie White delivers the convocation address June 7 at the graduation ceremony for Africa University in Mutare, Zimbabwe.
UMNS photos by Andra Stevens.

By Andra Stevens*
June 13, 2008 | MUTARE, Zimbabwe (UMNS)

In an address that elicited laughter, cheers and ultimately a standing ovation, United Methodist Bishop Woodie White urged Africa University's newest graduates to live a principled life and to make a difference, especially in Africa.

White and university Registrar Frank Chikange hold up an original oil painting of the campus presented to the bishop.

Serving as the convocation speaker at the United Methodist-related school's 14th graduation ceremony on June 7, White shared his own story of growing up in Harlem, N.Y., and developing a personal philosophy to guide his life and career choices.

He shared what he called the "Newbern principles," named for the late Captolia Dent Newbern, an African-American educator who was his mentor and made a tremendous difference in his life and the lives of many other young people.

Born in Georgia in 1905, Newbern began her education at a time when state law restricted formal schooling for black children to six years. Yet, in the course of her life, she earned degrees in music, social work, education and ministry.

White painted a portrait of Newbern as a committed, no-nonsense individual who believed in lifelong learning, perseverance and excellence. He invited the graduates to embrace a similar mindset.

The bishop urged the graduates to develop a philosophy of life that places value on every person as a child of God, eschews hate and extends graciousness, even to the ungracious. He spoke of respecting one's body as a temple of God and of always looking to God, who is able to open doors no one can close.

On the brink of a new chapter in their lives, the graduates were encouraged to work hard to overcome whatever difficulties they encounter and avoid making excuses. "You have to succeed whether (people) like you or not, so strive for excellence and shun mediocrity," he said. "Africa University wants you to be the very best.

"Take what you have and make what you want, and your skills and abilities will always make room for you," he said, quoting Newbern.

As he congratulated the graduates for their individual achievements, White highlighted the investment of The United Methodist Church in Africa University and its students. He reminded the graduates that the institution was meant to benefit communities that have great needs. He spoke of the sacrifices their families had made so that they could be trained and told each graduate to "stay with the church and be a person to work for change to improve the surroundings wherever you find yourself. … In all that you do, do to help somebody."

“"You have to succeed whether (people) like you or not, so strive for excellence and shun mediocrity.”
–Bishop Woodie White
White is bishop in residence at United Methodist-related Candler School of Theology at Emory University in Atlanta. His association with Africa University dates to the institution's inception.

"Since the late 1980s, Bishop White has been a strong advocate for the ministry of Africa University and he has worked diligently to see that ministry develop," said Fanuel Tagwira, the institution's interim vice chancellor.

Under White’s leadership, the former Central Illinois Annual (regional) Conference supported construction of the "Bridge to Dreams," which spans the Nyagambu River and provides secure access to the Africa University campus. In 1994, the bridge was formally dedicated in honor of the area’s first missionary bishop, Joseph Crane Hartzell, and the O'Farrell missionary family that served in Southern Rhodesia, which is now Zimbabwe, for more than 40 years.

As the bishop in Indiana, White led area congregations in a fundraising campaign for Africa University that resulted in the construction of four three-story residence halls housing 108 students each. His leadership was recognized by the naming one of the halls in honor of him and his wife, Kim Tolson White, an elementary school teacher. White retired from the active episcopacy in 2004.

*Stevens is the director of Africa University's Office of Public Information.

News media contact: Linda Green, Nashville, Tenn., (615) 742-5470 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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