Reinhardt President Dr. J. Thomas Isherwood envisioned a lecture series involving an experienced and well-known speaker who would share a challenging perspective on faith in the College mission, and on Thursday, Feb. 12, through an inspiring address by Dr. James T. Laney, his vision was realized. Laney, who now lives in Atlanta, Ga., is a former ambassador to South Korea, former president of Emory University, and former dean of Candler School of Theology. In his talk, he eloquently addressed the meaning of servant leadership.
“It is important to link education and leadership to servant leadership. This is a particular kind of understanding in how to exercise power,” Laney said. He described the purpose of education as through the three Cs: “to provide Ccompetence at a high level, instill and conform Character, to give you a vision for Commitment. Taken together, these provide the components … considered to be essential for real leadership.” Laney did a masterful job in relating to his audience. He used illustrations from current movies and events, classic literature, and history to make his points. He described competence using the Russell Crowe character in “Master and Commander.” “The people idolized him for his competence. He knew how to read the stars; he knew how to chart navigation. He knew all the things about the ship… it was in him. And as a result, the men had confidence in him, they believed in him. And that came through training, his apprenticeship, his having gone to what would amount to a college and having a degree. And in all that, he defined the capacity to doing things very well indeed.” Laney used the firemen who died on 9-11 to illustrate character. “Character is not the stodgy, priggish, self-righteous stuff… It’s being who we really are. It’s what we are when the pretenses are gone… It’s people who don’t take more credit than their due… The heros of 9-11 were the 343 firemen who went up the stairs to save the lives of those they could save, but they got trapped, and they died. The 343 firemen didn’t say, “What’s in it for us? How can we save our skins?’ They were ordinary people…” College Chaplain the Rev. Dr. Ted Staton, who chaired the committee that planned the event, knew Laney would be impressive. “Dr. Isherwood told the planning committee to invite someone who encourages and challenges, and we all knew Dr. Laney would do that,” Staton said. “His comments were perfectly aimed at our students and professors. His comments about the three Cs were wonderful challenges for all of us.”
The audience responded warmly to his message. Sociology major Susan Moore, a graduating senior who is headed to divinity school at Duke University next fall, also enjoyed Laney’s comments. “Dr. Laney definitely set a great precedent for the Wesley Lecture Series at Reinhardt.” She complemented Laney for using “in typical United Methodist minister fashion, a catchy play on alliteration--the 3 C's of Competency, Character, and Commitment” which clearly served their purpose, as she and many others were able to recite them later.
“As a student sometimes facing discouragement of whether all of the hard work in college will ever pay off, Dr. Laney's message provided encouragement and a renewal of vision for anyone who would take his words to heart. To do our part in both the realms of academia and the Church are indeed worthwhile endeavors,” Moore said. Communication major Anna Leary, a senior from Peachtree City, Ga., described Laney’s lecture as “humorous and very insightful into what it means to be a moral leader -- a very applicable topic for Reinhardt students. His lecture gave me a boost of hope that success is still attainable in our society even with strong moral convictions--something very important to me as I near graduation with some trepidation about entering such a secular work-world.” She also enjoyed talking with Laney prior to his address. “Dr. Laney was extremely approachable and genuinely interested in what Reinhardt students had to say,” Leary said. “We talked about my time at Reinhardt, people I knew through the Methodist church and about my future. Talking to him was like talking to an old family friend.” An exceptional speaker, Laney was educated at Yale (BA, MDiv, PhD) and has received 19 honorary degrees from institutions in the U. S., Korea, Japan and Great Britain. Most recently, as U. S. Ambassador to South Korea (1993-97), he was credited with playing a key role in defusing the 1994 nuclear crisis with North Korea. For his work he received highest awards from both the South Korean and U. S. governments, as well as the James Van Fleet Award from the Korean Society, and the first International Human Rights Award in Seoul.
Prior to his ambassadorship, Dr. Laney served as president of Emory University for 16 years. Under his presidency Emory came to be ranked in the top tier of American universities, and the endowment grew ten fold, to sixth among all institutions. He also served as dean of Candler School of Theology (1969-77) and taught at Vanderbilt and Harvard. Dr. Laney has served also as a pastor and, with his wife, Berta Radford Laney, as a missionary in South Korea.
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