The power of a smile

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This morning, like most days, hundreds of students piled into the Benson Auditorium for daily chapel at 9 and 10 a.m. Like most days, students led songs, a prayer, a scripture and a devotional thought. But these students were a bit smaller than normal. Today, Harding Academy students led chapel.

Today is the National Day of Encouragement. It’s my favorite day of the year.

Chapel was led by Academy students who went on a summer trip to Nicaragua as members of Team Arkansas USA and played baseball and soccer against Nicaraguan teams.

“If you were to ask me about the highlight of my summer, right off the bat, I would say my trip to Nicaragua,” said Jayden Whilhite, who led the chapel devotional. “The most important thing for us to take away is: One, share with a smile on our face and grateful heart; two, thank God for everything, and be content; three, be loving, and be a servant; and four, go light our world.”

The idea for a Day of Encouragement began in June 2007 when Dr. Andrew Baker, director of the Mitchell Center for Leadership and Ministry, met with high school students at the National Leadership Forum. Baker broke the students into groups and had them discuss what they believed to be the biggest problem facing today’s high school students.

“A lot of them came back with different ideas, but one of those groups that day came back and said, ‘We acknowledge that there are lots of problems, but we think there’s something at the root of all of it — the amount of discouragement we feel every day,’” Baker said. “I said, ‘I agree with you, but what are you going to do about it?’ And they said, ‘What if we created a National Day of Encouragement?’”

The focus of the day is on surrounding others with love and encouragement. The theme for this year is “The Power of a Smile.” After the chapel devotional, Baker spoke to students about encouragement and the need to experience it and share it.

“A smile is the most universal gesture,” he said. “The National Day of Encouragement is not complicated. It’s really simple. It’s in your DNA — the need for it and the ability to give it. Just encourage.”

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Baker urged the entire campus community to partake in the day and encourage someone. Students are writing notes of encouragement to others in the student center and sharing uplifting thoughts on social media.

Baker’s son, Isaac, led a prayer to close the devotional. “Please be with all my friends in Nicaragua,” he said, “and please help all these college kids to have a good day.”

Hannah Owens, director of digital media

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