Bishop Battle speaks at Livingstone convocation
By Laurie D. Willis
Livingstone College News Service
SALISBURY – In customary fashion, Bishop George E. Battle, Jr. told a joke seconds after stepping to the podium inside Varick Auditorium on Sept. 16 to deliver the annual Fall Convocation address.
And then he got serious.
“I’m excited because God gave me a message for you and that is that God has a plan for your life,” said Battle, Senior Bishop in the African Methodist Episcopal Zion Church and chairman of the Livingstone College Board of Trustees. “You are privileged to be here. Things don’t just happen. God put you here for a special purpose, so don’t let anybody pull you away from what you’re here to do.”
Battle told the students he was proud of them for being in college, echoing words oft-spoken by Livingstone President Dr. Jimmy R. Jenkins, Sr. about the importance of education.
“We must educate ourselves to make it in this society,” Battle said. “We can do more than just be plumbers or get involved in vocational things. We can be doctors, lawyers, teachers and preachers.”
Convocation is held annually to celebrate the beginning of a new academic year that’s filled with promise and hope. It also serves as a rite of passage for freshmen, who participate in a special candlelight service during the event.
This year as always, Livingstone alumni, members of the institution’s board of trustees, members of the AME Zion Church and local politicians attended.
In his 43-minute address, Battle stressed purpose to the students, shared some Livingstone history with them and mentioned a few of the institution’s notable alumni.
“Dr. James Gavin, one of the country’s foremost authorities on diabetes, is a Livingstone graduate,” Battle said. “And when people wanted to hear a great orator, they called on Livingstone’s Founder and First President Dr. Joseph Charles Price. Out of our struggles, this college has produced some of the greatest men and women of our day. And look at you. God has called you to Livingstone College for a purpose.”
Battle challenged the students to attend class regularly and to make the most of their college years. He cautioned them against falling into traps that can result in poor grades or dropping out. And he admonished them for actions unbefitting college students.
“You shouldn’t be standing on the block whistling at girls with short dresses on,” Battle said to rousing applause. “You should be getting into the books so you can go and make dresses for people. Anybody can be a thug or a tramp or cause trouble, but give me a student that wants to go somewhere and I’ll help you get there.
“The mountain may be high and you might have to stop and rest for a while, but you know who brought you here,” Battle continued, shifting from speaker to preacher as many in the crowd rose to its feet. We have a purpose, and our purpose is to give God praise. People might call you stuck up or a party pooper, but the party pooper will make an A and the party goer will make a D. You didn’t make the decision to come here. God through his infinite wisdom brought you here.”
Battle, a native of Rocky Mount, reminisced about his humble beginnings during his speech, sharing that he’s the oldest boy of Mary Battle’s eight children and he became quite adept at farming at a young age.
Before attending Livingstone and becoming a member of the “One of a Kind” class of 1969, Battle attended Clinton Junior College in Rock Hill, South Carolina. After graduating from Livingstone with a degree in sociology, Battle earned a Master of Divinity Degree from Hood Theological Seminary and a Doctor of Ministry Degree from Howard University in Washington, D.C.
He told the students he arrived at Clinton Junior College with $50 and his belongings in a brown paper bag.
“God, somehow, through all those struggles brought me through,” Battle said. “And you’re going to have struggles. But take what’s around you and make it the best. You’re not living in the Taj Mahal in your dorm rooms, but some of you are living better than you’ve ever lived. God has a purpose for your life. Your momma and daddy didn’t send you here to be a failure. God is calling you for a purpose.”
After his speech, Battle was given a Presidential Award of Honor by Jenkins, who praised him for his numerous accomplishments while introducing him and later commended him “for living an exemplary life.”
The ceremony also included the awarding of Honorary Doctor of Divinity Degrees to Rev. Terry L. Jones and Rev. Michael J. Rouse. Jones is senior pastor of Metropolitan AME Zion Church in Hartford, Connecticut, and Rouse is pastor of St. Catherine AME Zion Church in New Rochelle, New York.
After the Convocation, Jenkins and his wife, Dr. Faleese Moore Jenkins, Sr., hosted Battle, his wife Iris Miller Battle, Salisbury Mayor Paul B. Woodson, Jr., Mayor Pro Tem Maggie Blackwell, Rowan-Salisbury Board of Education member Jean Kennedy and other dignitaries, alumni and friends of the college at a luncheon.