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A Speech for John Wesley AME Zion Church

A Speech For John Wesley AME Zion Church


Introduction   Rev. Shannon, thank you for that introduction. Your parishioners might be interested in a couple of other bits of information. I am a Christian and I have a passion for higher education because of the difference that it can make in people's lives. 
Pay tribute to Rev. Shannon. 
I want to talk to you for a few minutes about higher education and, in doing so, to tell you a bit about a premier higher educational institution in this region-Bowie State University-and address three questions: (1) Why is higher education important today? (2) How should one prepare to go to college? (3) How can Christians facilitate higher education for others?   Bowie State University

  1. Founded in 1865-oldest Historically Black College/University (HBCU) in Maryland.
  2. Last fall's enrollment was around 5,300, about 32% of whom were graduate students.
  3. We offer 19 programs at the bachelor's level, 20 programs at the master's level, and two doctoral programs-the Doctor of Education in educational leadership and the Doctor of Applied Science in computer science.
  4. Particular strength computer science, mathematics, management information systems
  5. 87% of our students are African American, 7% Caucasian, 2% of Hispanic descent, 2% of Asian descent.
  6. Will start a principals' academy this fall to benefit new and veteran principals.
  7. Have the fastest supercomputer in Maryland and one of the fastest in the world, an invaluable research tool for our faculty and students and a resource for small and developing businesses. The AME Zion University in Liberia and the Njala University in Sierra Leone will benefit from this supercomputer by using the BSU Virtual Incubator Network to aid in economic development and basic education.
  8. Our mission:  "To enable students to think critically, value diversity, and become effective leaders..."

Why is higher education important today?    We can approach this question from three different perspectives.

Christian perspective:  We're obligated to use our talents and abilities and higher education is an effective way to develop and strengthen them. Obviously, Jesus wants his people to be educated.  "And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogue, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of disease among the people." -Matthew 4:23

God often works through people to bless other people. God has given each of us talents and abilities and he expects us to use them to the fullest extent possible in serving others. There is the story in Luke (19:11 ff) of the ruler who gave each of 10 servants 10 minas with the instruction for them to put the money to work until he returned to invest it. When the ruler returned, he asked the servants for an accounting of how they had used the money. The first servant reported, "Sir, your mina has earned ten more." The ruler said, "Well done, my good servant! Because you have been trustworthy in a very small matter, take charge of ten cities." The second servant came and said, "Sir, your mina has earned 5 more." His master answered, "You take charge of five cities." Then another servant came and said, "Sir, here is your mina; I have kept it laid away in a piece of cloth." Then the master said to those standing by, "Take his mina away from him and give it to the one who has ten minas."  One of the reasons that the ruler was so hard on the third servant is because he did nothing to use the money.

Like the ruler in this story, God has given each of us talents and abilities to use and He wants us to develop and use those talents for the benefit of His kingdom. If your talent is caring for and serving physical needs, college can help you to prepare to become a physician, nurse, or social worker. If your talent is inspiring, elucidating, and encouraging, then college can help you to become a teacher. If your talent is logical thinking and analytical problem-solving, then college can help prepare you to become a computer scientist, mathematician, or engineer. If you are a very creative person who excels in thinking outside the box or the performing arts, then college can help prepare you to become an artist or an architect or a musician or music director.

Indeed, sometimes the credential itself-the degree-can make it possible to obtain a position where we can serve in the future.  Remember the story of Ester. Haman conspired to have Mordecai, Ester's cousin, and all the Jews killed because Mordecai refused to bow to him. When Ester learned of this plot, she was reluctant to approach the king about it because any man or woman who approached the king in his inner court without being summoned was to be put to death. So she had good reason to fear for her life. But Mordecai sent this word back to her, "For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" (Ester 4:14). God gives us choices and opportunities. At some point, you will find yourself in a position to help someone else. Will you be prepared to do so? And sometimes, you will be in the position to help only if you have prepared beforehand.

Economics perspective: Historically higher education has proven to be a great investment. The average bachelor's degree holder can expect to earn about twice as much as the average high school graduate over the course of his/her working life. Economists talk about investments. A college education is an investment just like a house, or a manufacturing plant, or a piece of equipment like a tractor or backhoe used in a construction business. Any asset can be deployed to produce a profit, or returns, over a period of time, usually years.  An investment in a college education pays great dividends. Just two years of college, according to some research, yields about 10% more income. In another study, internal rates of return ranged from a low of 12.1% (for black males) to a high of 19.3% (for black females).  Compare these to 5% for investment in housing, 13-14% for investment in plant and equipment. One source reports that college graduates earn up to 80% more than high school graduates ($33,294 vs. $60,662). Over their lifetimes, this can amount to more than $1 million!

But a good college education is more than just preparation for a job or a career. It is more than just an economic investment.  Understanding, or at least coping with, and adapting to change. Learning to appreciate beauty and different modes of expression. Today is the fifth anniversary of one of the darkest days in American history-the tragedies of September 11, 2001. The events of that day changed all of our lives forever. It strikes me that 911 and the War on Terror are at least partly born out of a lack of appreciation for differences and tolerance, and even some arrogance. A good college education is a broadening experience which creates better world citizens.

Some say that college is not for everybody.  It's for everyone who wants to go. ("Commit your works to the Lord and your plans will be established. "-Proverbs 16:3)

Societal perspective:  We are now in the 21st century-the information age. The U. S. is now essentially a knowledge-based economy.  The Internet has accelerated the shift from an industrial age based on routine to an information age based on complexity.  This new type of economy is causing major change. In the past, commodities, products, and services held the key value; today, knowledge is what counts. Buildings, machines and infrastructures used to be vital to businesses; today, networks and communities are.

In the knowledge-based economy, people who are networked with one another through technology, regardless of their physical locations, can pool their knowledge for a particular project, collaborate to solve a problem and then go their separate ways again. The key to this exciting world is to understand that learning, be it upgrading work skills, preparing for a new career, developing a hobby or enriching our personal lives, is a lifelong process.

We are living in the age of "the new economy" (the network economy)-a world where people work with their brains rather than their hands, a world where innovation and change are paramount and rapid, a world where "communications technology creates global competition." This new economy has three distinguishing characteristics: It is global. It favors intangible things-ideas, information, and relationships. And it is intensely interlinked." Globalization, defined as international economic integration, refers to the ease with which goods and services move across national boundaries so that such boundaries are rapidly diminishing as binding constrains on production decisions. Falling transportation and communications costs lead to production facilities moving from one country to another so as to minimize costs and produce profits. Using the Internet, consumers can buy goods at the lowest cost from virtually anywhere in the world. Through telecommuting, some employees can now live anywhere in the world. For example, some software companies in the U.S. now employ programmers who live in India and work on their PCs.

Students who want to thrive in the new economy must keep certain things in mind. First, the world is changing so rapidly that one author says that 85% of your college-level knowledge base will be obsolete in five years! "The most valuable thing you [will] have is [the sum of all] your knowledge, which includes all the relationships and other intangible assets you've accrued over the course of your career." You will need to "manage" your career to a much greater extent than ever before. In doing so, you will need to market your services every day. You will need to understand where the market for your skills is heading. "Rather than being managed by the organization you join, you manage its contribution to your career." In essence, you must become a free agent! You will have "to adapt as the information around and ahead of your changes."

Well, what does all of this imply about the kind of preparation that you need to succeed in this new economy? You will need to know how to acquire and sift through information. You will need to be able to see change coming and adapt to it so that you can take advantage of it.  You will need perspective that comes from some knowledge of history, psychology, and art. You will need to know how to market yourself.  And since all of this will be changing, you will need to know how to be a life-long learner! If this sounds a bit frightening, it should! [Davis and Meyer titled Blur-the Speed of Change in the Connected Economy.] A good college education can help one to do all of that.

So, what is the role of universities? In a very real sense, the role that universities must perform with respect to globalization is the same role that has been played for many years. We must raise relevant questions, provide a forum for the discussion, and engage in research to inform the discussion. We must prepare our students for the world they will face. We don't tell students what to believe, but we teach them to ask questions, pursue their own answers, behave ethically, taking into account human history and current technology.

How should one prepare to go to college?

    1. Take the right courses in high school.

         -English, Math, Science, Foreign Language, Social Science

         -Ask a high school counselor or a college admissions officer.

    2. Learn as much as you can. (Earn the best grades that you can.)

In closing, I have two final requests. If you have bought into my message about the importance of higher education, then help to make this world a better place by helping to expand opportunities for others. If you are a college graduate, give back (financially) to your alma mater. Many students have tremendous economic need today. They come from poor families with very difficult economic circumstances. Give to your alma mater's scholarship fund and, in so doing, you will help your alma mater to help others. If you are not a college graduate, giving to the university of your choice is a way to make an important difference in the life of another. It is a way of expressing the love of Jesus Christ that is in you. You can give to Bowie State University, or the University of the District of Columbia, and any other appropriate institution. 

Next you can encourage and send students to Bowie State University! Our mission is to prepare leaders through our degree programs.  We prepare people for jobs, for careers, for life. Our communities, this country, and the world needs more African American people in positions of leadership, whether in the corporate world, the public schools, the nation's universities, local, state, and national governments. And Bowie State University and other universities help people to develop their potential-their God-given talents.

Investment in higher education is indeed an investment for life-yours and others. It will certainly benefit you, the individual, but when used in a Christ-like fashion, it will benefit others also!

Thank you.

Mickey L. Burnim
September 10, 2006

Samuel T. Cooper and Elchanan Cohn, "Internal Rates of Return to College Education in the United States by Sex and Race,"Journal of Education Finance, vol. 23, no. 1, p. 124 ff.


These thoughts were expressed by Gerhard Schulmeyer, President and CEO Siemens Nixdorf  Informations systeme.

"Background Information: The Need for Educational Technology Initiatives," from the World Wide Web.

(Encyclopedia of the New Economy,

(Kevin Kelley, New Rules for the New Economy)

Stan Davis and Christopher Meyer, Blur: The Speed of Change in the Connected Economy, Warner Books (New York: 1999), p. 147.

Ibid., p. 148.

Ibid., p. 155.

Ibid., p. 168.