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Text of 2014 Commencement Address by Marilyn Foley

Marilyn Foley, First Lady of the University of Mobile, delivered the commencement address on May 10, 2014, during the 48th graduation ceremony of the Christian university. Following is the text of her speech, and her introduction by UMobile President Dr. Mark Foley.

Dr. Mark Foley: Introduction of Commencement Speaker

It is my great pleasure to introduce to you our speaker on the occasion of this 48th graduation exercise of the University of Mobile.  This is the 17th time that I have had this honor, but never have I exercised it with the depth of meaning or delight with which I speak this day. 

Our graduation speaker today is Marilyn Foley, First Lady of the University of Mobile.  There are many words that describe Marilyn Foley.  I have been accumulating them since before our first date in 1968.  Here are only a few…

She is a daughter whom I witnessed caring for her parents to their bedsides in the last moments of their lives.

She is a sister who has lovingly maintained a close relationship with her brother though they have lived a great distance from one another through their adult lives.

She is a wife who is at once loving, and caring, and tolerant, and supportive.

She is a mother who thrills at the sound of the voices of our daughter and our son.

She is a grandmother whose longing heart and delightful embrace extends toward our two (and almost three) grandchildren daily.

She is a model whose images have demonstrated loveliness, style, and grace.

She is an educator whose students still identify her influence as markers in their lives.

She is a mentor who has regularly and deeply invested in the lives of our students through the years.

She is an artist whose beautiful ceramic creations are displayed in homes around our city.

She is a woman of faith and character…diligent, conscientious, friendly, listening, graceful, witty, beautiful, loving, and altogether lovely.

I invited suggestions from friends on how I might best introduce my wife.  One friend, a member of the presidential search committee that engaged me those many years ago, suggested my introduction should conclude…”And now ladies and gentlemen I introduce to you the real reason that I am the President of the University of Mobile.”

But, I think I will quote from one who, upon learning that her friend Marilyn would be speaking today, wrote, “How blessed is the University of Mobile and the community to have such an incredible First Lady…not only supporting the school but being such a find example to our students, faculty, and staff as well to all UM supporters.  Go Marilyn Foley!”

Please welcome to this podium the First Lady of the University of Mobile, my wife, my partner, and the love of my life, Mrs. Marilyn Foley.

Marilyn Foley: Commencement Address to University of Mobile Class of 2014

Good Morning!  I’ve attended MANY graduation commencement programs.  I usually take it in from the second row on your left…The perfect position to enjoy the speaker, the celebration, and ladies, the exquisite parade of shoes!  Although I’ve enjoyed and appreciated every speaker we’ve ever had, for several years I have been delivering a gentle reminder, that “We need a female graduation speaker some day!”  I wasn’t applying for the position, just making a simple suggestion!   This is a wonderful honor, pleasure and privilege.  I already count it a privilege to be the “special assistant” to the president of the University of Mobile.  I like to say, “My husband works very hard and I enjoy his hard work!”  Today I thank him for the honor of congratulating you on your accomplishment. 

Actually, every year I’ve wished I could stand in the lobby and shout just that, along with “We will miss you!” and “Where did the time go?!”  This is a bittersweet day for me.  I’m trying to be very happy for you and your family!  My “job” is a pleasure and a privilege because I get to know many of you personally.  However, with most of you, your brief and busy 4 years (or so) have only allowed me to admire you from afar and to have hoped to know you personally.  You are talented in so many ways, responsible, committed, determined, passionate, compassionate, inspiring, intelligent, resourceful, confident, respectful, humble, grateful, clever, and, as of today, very well educated – only to list a few of the many things I admire.  So, what does one say to such an impressive group? 

Well, since I’ve always wanted to stand in the lobby like a mom shouting final reminders and instructions to her children running out the door, I’m going to do just that!  This is my opportunity and I’m going to take it.  (I’ll try not to shout though!)  As a parent, as an educator, as a member of your team, your fan club, your cheerleading squad, I want you to leave UM with these final thoughts running through your head as you head out the door…

First, Know what you believe.

Many of you chose UM because of its Christian culture.  Some of you came for the beach (You know who you are!) For  ALL of you our prayer  has been that  if you come with a personal faith in the one true God, that those beliefs would grow stronger, more personal, more relevant.  If you have come to UM without His Presence in your life, then our prayer is that you were introduced to Him and that Jesus has become very personal to you.  Today, our focus is on celebrating the completion of an academic degree and that is a very real accomplishment.  But the most enduring credential with which you could leave your UM experience would be the FREE Grace and Mercy offered through believing in Jesus.  What do you believe?  Or better yet, for whom will you live?  I encourage you to think long and hard about that and to use the words of Joshua (24:15) “choose for yourselves this day who you will serve.” 

And so ,Know what you believe.

Second, Use your life to influence for what you believe. 

At UM, career education is paramount.  So, you leave us today with excellent preparation to begin a career in the field in which you have trained.  However, in addition you have been equipped to not just do a job, but to influence.  Repeatedly, Dr. Foley has challenged you to take your assignment and “Change the World.”  This is of the utmost importance.  To my point, recently I heard a successful businessman say that when he’s looking for his next employee, he’s “looking at their accomplishments”  . . . or, said another way: He looks at how one’s accomplishments have created influence and positive change. 

Your actions, calculated or not, influence those around you.  Stop and think about that.

When our 1st grandchild was in preschool, our daughter called to tell me about their first parent-teacher conference. 

“Mom, they said they think she has a really good vocabulary!  She drew a picture and the teacher said, ‘Avery, that is so pretty!  Is it a flower?’  And Avery’s very impressive answer was . . .   “Well… maybe a snapdragon or a marigold.” (Between the lines, not JUST a flower!  )

Now, I really didn't share this story to JUST be a self-indulgent grandmother.   No, the point is the reality of influence, even unintentional influence. 

When I heard this story, it was shortly after my mother had passed.  Immediately, I thought, “That is mom.”  She introduced me to snapdragons and marigolds.  This 5-year-old’s simple awareness of flowers was the trickle effect of her great-grandmother’s influence, on her grandmother, on her mother – who quite honestly, aren’t even great gardeners.  We just very simply enjoy the beauty of flowers, observe their beauty and talk about it.   Influence had caused our 5-year-old’s effortless awareness of flowers to become everyday stuff to her. 

Likewise, how you live your life will influence others regardless if you intend it to or not.  

What difference will your influence make?  

And so I come back to my point - Use your life to influence for what you believe.

Third, Influence boldly with compassion.

I think many people have misconstrued influence as he who can be heard the loudest, make the biggest waves, land the biggest punch.  Jesus was none of that.  Think about His life.  It was marked by Truth delivered in Love and serving others.  He influenced an intimate circle of 12 men.  All but two were martyred for His cause… talk about influence! 

Imagine the difference between the shattering, stinging blast of water coming from an open fire hydrant vs. the impression-forming trickle or steady, gentle flow of water over a rock bed.  How you express your influence is critical.  Steady, gentle living of your belief will make the most powerful, lasting impression.

There will certainly be moments when you must voice your conviction.  Be discerning and don’t be afraid to say, “ this is my standard, this is my position.”  Know what you believe about current issues and influence for your belief.  You are a UM graduate.  You have skills, experience, education, talents, gifts that equip you with influence.   You are impressive!  Let it be known what you know . . . and believe.  Our culture, our world desperately needs intentional Christ-centered INFLUENCE. 

There will always be disagreement on issues, even among Christians.  My wise father used to tell me, if two people agree on everything – then one of them isn’t necessary!   Your stand is necessary.  The challenge is understanding people and their motivation, and doing what Jesus commanded – loving them as yourself.   You must use influence with care… you are dealing with human hearts.

There is great wisdom in Proverbs regarding this:

The wise in heart are called discerning, and pleasant words promote instruction.

Understanding is a fountain of life to those who have it, but folly brings punishment to fools. 

Proverbs 16:21-22

And so I repeat, Influence boldly with compassion.

Last of all, I want to remind you that the rest of your life begins now!  Not Monday, not when you start that job, not when you get accepted to the next program, not when you get that next certification, not when you walk down the aisle.  No… the present moment is life.  The future motivates; but life is always now.  Don’t miss it.  Today we are celebrating your experiences thus far and the beginning for which you have been preparing, practicing for the real thing, learning from experiences, discovering strengths, laying a foundation… and now when you walk out the doors of this auditorium, diploma in hand, the rest of your life begins.  What will you do with it? 

Take this moment to decide:

What do I believe?

How will I use my influence?

How can I have bold influence with compassion?

And so your journey doesn’t have a finish line today. Today is another starting point.  I’m so impressed by your generation for many reasons – you can make the difference for which we are hoping. We will miss you, but you will always be a member of our family.  We celebrate your success and your influence!  We will always be your fans!

And so, I believe in you!  University of Mobile graduating class of 2014!

To watch the address, please go here.

Mrs. Marilyn Foley, First Lady of University of Mobile

Dr. and Mrs. Mark Foley

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