This week, a handful of student leaders stepped up to the third floor railing of the Warren Library, ready to unveil this year’s theme. At President William M.B. Fleming Jr.’s cue, they let the oversized banner drop over the metal railing, with the theme “Dream!” printed in bold letters for the whole crowd to see.
Forty-minutes earlier, prayers by Palm Beach Atlantic University’s pastors and leaders had set the stage. Their inspiring words had resonated around the large room filled with faculty, staff and students—men and women who were willing to take time out of their busy lives to come together as a community to pray.
“Father, we come to you as our leader, the One whom we have decided to follow,” prayed Dr. Kenneth Mahanes, special advisor to the president. “There’s never been a great thing accomplished without great leadership. You raised up leaders in the Old Testament, you raised up leaders in the new Christian community after the resurrection of Jesus. And throughout Christian history, we can study the history of this institution by looking back to the past 50 years. So, for those who stepped forward and dared to dream this impossible dream, for our current leaders, for a group of people who have gathered around these stairs, and maybe have never met, but are crucial to this university.”
Noting that “sometimes the loneliest place in the world it’s at the top,” Mahanes took a moment to pray for our leaders. President Fleming proceeded by thanking everyone for coming together, “quietly, patiently, waiting on the Lord to speak to us collectively and individually so that His vision for Palm Beach Atlantic University might be revealed in perfect harmony.” Before he shared the theme for PBA’s new school year, he acknowledged a few groups that were there that day.
In the last two years, Palm Beach Atlantic has looked for inspiration to the Old Testament as it seeks to find a new theme. This year, as it prepared to celebrate its 50th year, it looked at the words of our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ found in Matthew 19:23-26.
“Then Jesus said to his disciples, ‘Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.’ When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, ‘Who then can be saved?’ Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
About this time in August, 50 years ago, faculty and administration gathered to prepare for 100 students to arrive on the Palm Beach Atlantic campus. As a way to make light off their incredible challenge, they began to hum the Broadway tune, “The Impossible Dream.” For them, that was a fitting challenge: to dream the impossible dream. But as President Fleming led everyone to God’s Word, he noted, “Nothing is impossible for God.” And without missing another beat, he presented the theme for the 2018-2019. “The theme is DREAM!”
The next day, the campus was abuzz with a new charge: Dare to dream. And at his State of the University Address, which was delivered at the DeSantis Family Chapel, President Fleming challenged the entire faculty and staff to reflect deeply as he asked, “What is your Palm Beach Atlantic University dream?”
As PBA welcomes the start of a new school year, President Fleming encouraged all to be filled with the same love and passion as the pioneers who ignited history and who launched this dream on August 15, 1968. “I pray that I have that same courage that convicted our pioneers to serve their neighbor by planting a Christ-first institution on the sandy shores of West Palm Beach,” he said. “Join me now, join me this year in dreaming.”
To illustrate his point, he held in his hand the school catalog for the Fall of 1968. The catalog had all the things that an inaugural piece would have, but President Fleming drew our attention to the inside cover, where it read: “Let’s make history together.”
“What’s stopping you and me from continuing to make history: bold, impactful history on Palm Beach Atlantic?” He pressed, as this is clearly not just something that could be used in the Fall of 1968; it’s something that we can recycle and use once again.
He pointed to Dr. Donald Warren, one of Palm Beach Atlantic University’s founding chairmen of the board of trustees who played a huge role in the launch of PBA. As a result, he had many stories to tell and was often encouraged to write those in his memoirs. President Fleming took a look at the last page of Dr. Warren’s book, and read:
“It is clear now that the impossible dream of building a fine Christian institution in the most unchurched part of the United States, has become a reality. And it is extremely clear that Palm Beach Atlantic University is not only a marvelous miracle of God, but it is truly His college.” Dr. Warren goes on and says, “Imagine what Jesus meant in Matthew 19:26. “With them it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’” On that last page, Dr. Warren concludes, “Our Lord is indeed a God of miracles and wonders. No dream is impossible if He is the One who gives it to you.”
And on that liberating note, President Fleming moved from the year’s theme to recognize several school accomplishments, including the superb work done on accreditation, which was led by Carolanne Brown. All the schools received the very best mark, and a full report will be included on Palm Beach Atlantic’s Annual Report, which will be released in print next month.
President Fleming also gave an update on our campus safety, an issue that has been not only a frequent topic in schools, homes and in the government of our county, but also a top priority at PBA. Many improvements have already been done, including: installed ID swipe locks in most residence halls, increased number of security cameras on campus, improved lighting, installed lockdown devices in classrooms, installation of ShotSpotter by the City of West Palm Beach, additional security patrol vehicles, just to name a few.
At the end of his presidential address, President Fleming announced the employee service awards, from 35 to 5 years of service, as well as the Employee of the Year, which was awarded to Debbie Konynenbelt, administrative assistant to the provost.
As faculty and staff reflected on the last few days, it was evident that everyone was signing on to this “dare to dream” movement, but it was the young people walking on campus who led it. That gives hope.