The members of the University of Arkansas at Pine Bluff May 2014 graduating class were told Saturday to remember their graduation date because it marks their individual academic triumphs over adversity, and to be mindful that none of them got to that point on his own.
Rev. H. Beecher Hicks Jr. delivered the address for the 150th Commencement Exercises at the Pine Bluff Convention Center.
Hicks wowed the crowd with his oratorical skills honed over a nearly 40-year career as the head pastor of Metropolitan Baptist Church in Washington, D.C. In the process, he provided the graduates with a powerful commencement address.
“We live in a society that celebrates youth,” Hicks said. “But let me tell you: youth is not an achievement. It is just a number. Your achievement is the values by which you live and the principles on which you stand.
“In my childhood I planted a tree in the front yard of our home,” Hicks said. “It wasn’t very long before that little sapling stood taller than the one who planted it. Every once in a while I go back to that place and that tree reminds me of times gone by and to stand with my head held high. I may bend but I never bow.”
Hicks said the seemingly inconsequential event that made up the planting of the young oak tree became ever more consequential with the passing of time.
“The more I looked back on it the more important it became,” Hicks said. “It reminds me of the time I hit a baseball that went through Mrs. Cooper’s stained glass window. That taught me about judgment and salvation. It reminded me of some of the street fights I got into and of God seeing fit to provide me with allies who could fight the battles for me that I could not.”
Hicks focused his words on the theme of marking your spot and used the biblical story of Samuel leading the Israelites against the Philistines as his primary narrative.
“When the Israelites achieved victory over the Philistines Samuel set up a stone and called it Ebenezer,” Hicks said. “He marked the spot where the Israelites had known defeat but now knew victory. Israel’s history is defined by her relationship with her enemies and adversaries. The Philistines were Israel’s constant enemy and now Israel was victorious.”
Hicks said that the situation Israel found itself in had parallels to the Class of 2014.
“You all have been similarly faced with your own enemies,” Hicks said. “They put stumbling blocks in your path and laugh when you fall. The reason that Israel’s victory is so significant it because its defeat seemed so imminent. She should not have won when looking at how the two sides stacked up against each other.
“Similarly there is someone here in this class today who by all accounts should not be,” Hicks said. “You had to fight against your adversaries and at times your defeat seemed all but certain. But you are here.”
Hicks said it was not until Israel remembered that it owed all of its previous successes to God that the tide of battle with the Philistines finally turned.
“You must stay in touch with the Savior if you want to be victorious,” Hicks said. “Where is the God factor in your life?”
Hicks said the Philistines were confused by what they considered an odd reaction by the Israelis to defeat.
“The pain and defeat of the Israelites was met by shouts instead of cries,” Hicks said. “When the Philistines heard that the Ark of the Covenant had arrived in the Israelite camp they were afraid. The equation changes when God steps into my camp. If you never knew defeat then you can never know the joy of victory.”
“God has enabled you to get through your suffering,” Hicks said. “Once Israel re-established its relationship with the sacred through the return of the Ark of the Covenant, Samuel prayed and God sent out a thunderstorm which threw the Philistines into confusion and the Israelites had their victory. The ones who deserve to graduate are the ones they said would never make it, the ones they said would never account for anything.”
Hicks said that whenever help is received it must be acknowledged.
“My success is not because of anything I have done but because the Lord has helped me,” Hicks said. “You mark the spot so that you will never forget where you came from, so that others will know what you went through, and to remind you that the Lord has helped you. If the Lord has helped you, just mark the spot.”
Hicks said that just as Samuel sacrificed a lamb to God in thanks for the victory over the Philistines, so to is victory for all humanity in the lamb of God.
Hicks was honored with a spirited standing ovation that included the graduates as well as friends and family and university administrators, faculty and staff.
Hicks is a 1964 graduate of Arkansas A. M. & N. College and a native of Baton Rouge, La.