How does a person reflect on two years in 600 words or less? Particularly years that have no parallel in living memory.
I can identify with the Hebrew people who left Egypt for a new, unknown home. They didn’t have maps or a GPS to guide them. There was no app on their phone indicating how many minutes … or hours … or days to their final destination.
Instead, they traveled by faith, led by two unparalleled phenomena: a personal cloud (not the data storage kind) and a fiery column. If they didn’t pay attention or obey, they would soon be lost in a hostile, life-quenching desert.
When Jay and I came to Taylor, we didn’t know how long our sojourn would be. I wasn’t sure what direction God would be leading Taylor during my presidency. I didn’t have the “presidential roadmap to success” to guide me.
But I did have unshakeable confidence that God had called me to this role. Because I didn’t have the traditional preparation to be a college president, I was utterly dependent upon Him. His strength would show up in and through my weaknesses.
Do you know why dependence is a great position to be in? That way God gets all the glory.
Of course, I haven’t been alone. I have been surrounded not only by a “great cloud of witnesses,” but also flesh and blood colleagues whose expertise and love for Taylor are a source of wise counsel and practical knowledge, and who are leaders in their own right.
I couldn’t have done this without Mike Hammond, Nathan Baker, Rex Bennett, Gregory Dyson, Steve Olson, Ron Sutherland and Skip Trudeau. I have learned from each of them, and am grateful for the imprint they’ve left on me and on Taylor.
I wish I could have spent more time with our extraordinary faculty. “COVID hibernation” foreclosed those casual conversations that are the mustard seed of relationships. I’m grateful for the faculty leaders whose paths intersected mine: Jeff Cramer, Tracy Manning, Ed Meadors, Ashley Chu, Matt Renfrow, and Barb Bird (and there are many others—forgive me for not mentioning you all by name!).
The staff at Taylor are just as passionate as the academic faculty about students and the mission. My life has been enriched through getting to know people like Jeff Wallace, Kathy Chamberlain, Nicole Murphy, Brad Yordy, the Advancement team, and so many, many more.
But most of you reading this want to know: What about the students?
Yes, I saved the best for last. You are God’s surprise.
He surprised me with a love for you before I ever knew you. And that love has grown deeper. The cost of loving one another is revealed in the pain of parting. But it’s a price I would gladly pay again, because the rewards are immeasurable.
We’ve been on this uncertain journey together. None of us could predict the detours. We’ve sprinted, jogged, walked and stumbled with weariness. We’ve encouraged and cheered one another on to finish well.
Each one of you who has not given up, who is not pouting on the sidelines (or at least not for long!) is being formed as a leader. I have had the privilege of getting to spend time with your elected leaders: Anders Soderquist, Tali Valentine, and Matt Hapner last year (2019-2020), and Emmanuel Terrell, Anna Craig and Danny Magallanes this year (2020-2021).
They have led you well. They did not give up when they were exhausted, discouraged, numbed by pandemic fatigue. They modeled what sacrificial leadership looks like, what it means to be a servant leader. And so have many of you.
So, farewell dear ones. Follow the fire and the cloud. God will lead you on the journey of a lifetime!
Dr. Paige Cunningham, appointed interim president of Taylor University in 2019, will conclude her service in this role Aug. 15, 2021.