Spring Commencement Speakers Share Timely Advice With Graduates

Dr. Jay Strack speaks to students and guests as keynote speaker of PBA's Spring 2017 Commencement ceremony.
 Dr. Jay Strack speaks to students and guests as keynote speaker of PBA's Spring 2017 Commencement ceremony.

Can lives be transformed in just three minutes?

That's the question that Dr. Jay Strack, founder of  Student Leadership University, posed in his keynote address to more than 500 graduates and some 4,500 guests Saturday during Palm Beach Atlantic University's Spring Commencement held in the Expo Center of the South Florida Fairgrouinds in suburban West Palm Beach.

Asserting that many decisions in life take just a few minutes to make, Strack told graduates: "You and I need to be wise and careful because it only takes a few minutes to lose a reputation, to lose a marriage, to lose a job, to lose a life.”

He pointed to the recent publicity concerning United Airlines as a pivotal decision that harmed the airlines reputation, and he went on to recount his own troubled youth and the moment that he heard the saving message of Christianity.

“Jesus transformed my life,” Strack declared. “The Lord gave me a new life and He made old things pass away and all things become new.”

In his introduction of Strack, PBA President William M. B. Fleming, Jr. said that Strack has been described as a "pied piper ... a leader whom others rush to follow because they are full of the (Holy) Spirit.”

For 15 years, PBA has partnered with Student Leadership University (SLU), an incubator of Christian values. Fleming noted that more than 100 among PBA’s spring graduating class have taken part in Orlando-based SLU.

“Now you and I have the opportunity to write the narrative of our lives,” Strack told the graduates. “What you do today matters. What you worked so hard for months and years matters."

Strack challenged the audience to believe that they can make a difference in the world. “When you take the gifts that you have and a heart that cares for other people and the belief that God could use even me to change some of the stuff that I don’t like going on today,” he said.

“All successful people believe that the future can be better than the present. And all successful people believe that I have the power to make it so.” Strack quoted Martin Luther, saying that only two days matter: today and the day that we stand in judgement before God.

Strack shared three great lesson that he has learned from successful people. Those lessons included relentless integrity that he described as behaving properly in public and in private. The second, aggressive collaboration, is the realization that if you are going to do something great for God you can’t do it by yourself. He held up the example of evangelist Billy Graham, Bill Bright who established Campus Crusade and Doug Coe who founded the National Prayer Breakfast as a collaborative effort that advanced Christianity.

“The most neglected leadership skill in the world is the ability to form meaningful, lasting relationships,” Strack said. He encouraged graduates to form strong friendships with others who also are trying to make a difference in the world.

Lastly, successful people have a live faith that sustains them throughout their lives. “Don’t be a fair-weather Christian because in a matter of minutes we can lose everything," he said.

Strack concluded retelling the story of the U.S. Airlines flight that crash landed on the Hudson River in 2009. About three minutes had elapsed from the moment that the plane lost both engines until the successful landing by Captain "Sully" Sullenberger, saving all on board.

“All your years at Palm Beach Atlantic,” Strack said, “have been getting you ready (for that sort of decisive moment)."

Also chosen to speak at Saturday’s ceremony were two of this year’s outstanding graduates, Hunter Durham of Springfield, Missouri and Megan Freeman of Concord, California.

Freeman said that she thought it was brave leaving her comfort zone to come to PBA. But she realized that she wasn’t that brave, experiencing loneliness and isolation her first year on campus. The communications major said that she considered quitting but she decided to stay. She got involved in activities, making a community and dear friends, and “becoming a person who thinks outside of herself, not for herself."

“PBA taught me to be brave and taught me to have courage. And that’s one thing that I can thank them for considering that I am about to enter a world where the Christian values of community and God are often placed second to greater individual success,” Freeman said.

She compared PBA to an incubator, saying that while the graduates might want to stay, there is no more room for them to grow. “The time has come to take our leave,” she said, “and with courage step out into the world to be the light of Christ wherever possible.”

Durham, a marketing major who will be working for Facebook in Austin, Texas wondered if the three minutes that he had to speak might be transformative. He posed three questions to the graduates: What are you doing right now to get outside your comfort zone? What are you doing to humble yourself? What are you doing to recognize the people who got you here today?

Recognizing his family, friends, mentors and professors, Durham continued, “I wouldn’t be on this stage if it wasn’t for you and I believe that each one of you would not be the graduate that you are today if it wasn’t for someone who has come along side of you in life.”  

West Palm Beach Mayor Dr. Jeri Muoio thanked the graduating class for their volunteerism in the city and said she looks forward to seeing them remain active in the community. Muoio singled out  nursing graduate Sarah Fabry whose ‘”love and compassion for children” is leading her into pediatrics, serving at Palm Beach Children’s Hospital.

Also during the program, Michael H. Lubben, a member of the Parents Council, gave the invocation, and Dr. Kathy Maxwell, associate professor of biblical and theological studies, gave the benediction.

 Also chosen to speak at Saturday’s ceremony was Hunter Durham of Springfield, Missouri. Megan Freeman speaks at commencement 2017.
Also chosen to speak at Saturday’s ceremony were two of this year’s outstanding graduates, Hunter Durham (left) of Springfield, Missouri and Megan Freeman of Concord, California.