Click here to view a video of the convocation.
MACON, Ga. – Former U.S. Congressman, Ambassador to the United Nations and Atlanta Mayor Andrew Young kicked off Mercer University's yearlong commemoration of the 50th anniversary of the institution's integration during a Sept. 20 convocation in Willingham Auditorium by calling for local and global reconciliation.
President William D. Underwood and Board of Trustees Chairman David Hudson also addressed the commemoration's opening convocation, and the audience of students, faculty, staff, trustees and community members were treated to performances by the Mercer Singers and a video featuring interviews with the University's integration trailblazers.
"On Sept. 20, 1963, 50 years ago to this day, the first three black students admitted to Mercer University officially enrolled: Sam Oni, Bennie Stephens and Cecil Dewberry," said President Underwood. "Over the past several months, alumni, trustees, students, faculty and staff from throughout the University have been engaged in thoughtful planning to ensure a meaningful commemoration of the 50th anniversary of this watershed moment in the history of our University."
Hudson, a 1968 graduate of the College of Liberal Arts, introduced Ambassador Young as a man who "has been at the forefront of the history made in this nation and this state for the last 50 years."
"Ambassador Young has been, and will be, until he draws his last breath, a champion of justice, human rights and economic opportunities," said Hudson.
Ambassador Young, who was presented with an honorary doctorate of humanities by President Underwood following his remarks, addressed the need for reconciliation – not only locally, but globally – among the many polarities of our planet.
"When we developed the cell phone and the television set, and when we learned how to transfer money electronically all over the planet, whether we believe it or not, this is one world," he said.
"We have to learn to come together and live together and work together and develop a social order that is fair to each and everybody, simply because, if we don't do it, there's nobody else in the world that can."
The avenue to allow for such reconciliation, he contended, is economic development.
"The development of an economy that allows people all over the world to have jobs is what we're going to be asked about when we get to heaven," Ambassador Young said. "They're not going to ask you whether you went to church. They're not going to ask you how many degrees you had. They'll say, 'Did you feed the hungry? Did you clothe the naked? Did you heal the sick?'
"We in the United States of America still have the best opportunity to develop democracy, free enterprise and a forgiving, merciful social order that allows people to live together as brothers and sisters, as Dr. (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) said, rather than perish as fools."
The convocation is the first of many events throughout the academic year based on the theme "Looking Back & Moving Forward: Celebrating a Half Century of Integration at Mercer University." A listing of those events, as well as an interactive timeline, an opportunity for students, alumni and community members to share their stories, and other features and information can be found at a special website – 50th.mercer.edu – launched earlier this year.
Ambassador Young lauded the University and similar institutions that strive to have such open conversations in the pursuit of higher learning.
"There's something about the small, religious, liberal arts college that has been the maintainer of our values and vision from the beginning of this country," he said.
About Mercer University
Founded in 1833, Mercer University is a dynamic and comprehensive center of undergraduate, graduate and professional education. The University enrolls more than 8,300 students in 12 schools and colleges – liberal arts, law, pharmacy, medicine, business, engineering, education, theology, music, nursing, health professions, and continuing and professional studies – on campuses in Macon, Atlanta and Savannah – and four regional academic centers across the state. The Mercer Health Sciences Center, launched July 1, 2012, includes the University's medical, nursing, health sciences and pharmacy schools. Mercer is affiliated with four teaching hospitals – Memorial University Medical Center in Savannah, the Medical Center of Central Georgia in Macon, and The Medical Center and St. Francis Hospital in Columbus. The University also has educational partnerships with Warner Robins Air Logistics Center in Warner Robins and Piedmont Healthcare in Atlanta. It operates an academic press and a performing arts center in Macon and an engineering research center in Warner Robins. Mercer is the only private university in Georgia to field an NCAA Division I athletic program. www.mercer.edu