Articles by Hannah Owens

Hannah is the director of digital media in the communications and marketing office at Harding. She has been a writer for Harding magazine since 2011 when she began working for the University.


After we left Westminster Abbey, Ann and I walked north on Whitehall up to Trafalgar Square. Our mission was to locate the 1828 oil on canvas Wilberforce portrait by Sir Thomas Lawrence. After a false start when we entered the National Gallery instead of the National Portrait Gallery, we finally found our way to the correct entrance. As an added bonus, the Portrait Gallery is free.

It took us awhile to find the Wilberforce painting, but we finally located it in a room dedicated to 18th-century social reformers. As we turned the corner, there he was! I don’t know if you feel this way or not, but to me portraits are not like other artwork; portraits look back. Eyes meet eyes, and you take the measure of one another. So, there I was looking at what Sir Thomas Lawrence saw when he looked at Wilberforce in 1828. The painting was never completed, so it almost appears as though a spotlight is shining on the face of the man who led the campaign to abolish the Slave Trade in Great Britain.

Looking at the face in the painting, I was reminded of so many personal details that Metaxas shared in his “painting” of Wilberforce in Amazing Grace. Here are but a few:

  • Wilberforce was “tiny and stood just over five feet with a child-sized torso.” (p. 43).
  • He suffered from ulcerative colitis his entire life. (p. 43).
  • He was “greatly renowned for his singing voice.” (p. 29).
  • He was once called “the wittiest man in all of England.” (p. 28).
  • He was highly regarded for his “intelligence, charm and wit.” (p. 21).
  • He had extremely poor eyesight. (p. 55).

Mextaxas’ most extensive physical description of Wilberforce is set in 1807, the year the Slave Trade was abolished: “His always frail body, which had been wracked with pain and discomfort ever since he could remember, was the body of someone much further along in years. The constant doses of opium pushed on him by his doctors for his ulcerative colitis had taken their toll on his eyes, and the curvature of his spine and the telltale slump of his head that would mark him in later years were already discernible. He’d entered Parliament as a boy of twenty-one, fresh from the bright green lawns of Cambridge — but how the years and battles had aged him.” (p. 205)

As I looked into the eyes of Wilberforce (actually looking through Sir Thomas Lawrence’s eyes as he looked into the eyes of Wilberforce), the thing that most impressed me was that he did not look coldhearted, distant, broken or bitter. Even after decades of staring unflinchingly into the hellish realities of the Slave Trade and after facing endless defeats in Parliament, Wilberforce remained a kind, caring, even playful husband and father. All the harsh realities of his life had failed to harden his heart. There was still room for joy, for love, for family and for God.

Does all of this show in the eyes of a man like Wilberforce? I don’t know. But as I continue “looking for Wilberforce,” I think I found a bit of him in a painting in the British Portrait Gallery.

Next stop: Clapham.

Bruce McLarty
London, England
August 5, 2016


Photo by Robert Muth via Wikimedia Commons.

Photo by Robert Muth via Wikimedia Commons.

After our visit to Parliament, we walked across the street to Westminster Abbey. This beautiful and ancient church has been the site of coronations and royal weddings for a thousand years. It also is the place where England has bestowed special honor on kings, queens, politicians, poets, missionaries and others by providing a place for them to be buried. Westminster Abbey feels like a cemetery primarily because it is a cemetery, albeit inside one of the most beautiful church buildings in the world. We went there on our “looking for Wilberforce” tour because on Aug. 3, 1833, William Wilberforce was buried in the Abbey.

Everyone who loves Wilberforce is thankful that he lived to see the day when Parliament voted to end not only the slave trade but also the institution of slavery itself. He received the news of this long-awaited event on Friday evening, July 26, 1833, more than 45 years after he had introduced his first bill in the House of Commons to abolish the slave trade. Finally, finally, the day had arrived. Wilberforce is reported to have exclaimed, “Thank God that I should have lived to witness a day in which England is willing to give twenty millions sterling for the Abolition of Slavery” (Metaxas, p. 274). Only three days later, Wilberforce breathed his last.

Amazing Grace, thankfully, contains the text of a letter that was delivered to the sons of Wilberforce a few hours later on the day he died.

We, the undersigned members of both Houses of Parliament, being anxious upon public grounds to show our respect for the memory of the late William Wilberforce and being also satisfied that public honors can never be more fitly bestowed than upon such benefactors of mankind, earnestly request that he may be buried in Westminster Abbey; and that we, and others who may agree with us in these sentiments, may have permission to attend his funeral. (Metaxas, p. 275).

Photo via

Photo via

So, William Wilberforce was buried in Westminster Abbey among kings and poets. Today, 183 years later, most tourists don’t even notice his name inscribed on the floor between the window where you buy your ticket and the stand where you pick up your audio tour. I have to confess that I overlooked it and had to be helped to find it later by a very kind red-robed Abbey marshal. At another location within the Abbey, there is a statue of Wilberforce, seated in a chair and with his head tilted in his very distinct and characteristic way. He looks pleasant, almost amused, as he stares back at the tourists listening to their headsets. I wondered how many people knew anything about this remarkable social reformer. And I wondered if there were others there in the Abbey at that moment who had come, as we did, just for Wilberforce — not for kings and queens and generals but for a tiny, sickly member of Parliament with a deep faith, a tender conscience, and an indomitable spirit who refused to allow the world to ignore the horrible plight of slaves.

We visit cemeteries because they somehow help us feel closer to the people whose names are engraved on the stone markers. There it is easier to remember and reflect on the difference the person made in our life and on the world. And in those moments, it is almost as inevitable as breathing for us to give thanks to God for the person whose life we remember. That is how I felt in Westminster Abbey when I went there “looking for Wilberforce.” The next stop on this journey will be the National Portrait Gallery.

Bruce McLarty
London, England
August 3, 2016


William Wilberforce’s lifelong friend, William Pitt, stands guard over St. Stephen’s Hall. The House of Commons met here when they voted to abolish the slave trade on February 23, 1807.

Stop 1: The British Parliament

I finished rereading Amazing Grace, Eric Metaxas’ biography of William Wilberforce, shortly before landing at London’s Heathrow Airport late Tuesday night. It was in the final paragraph of his epilogue that I found the words that would become the title of this short travelogue and blog. Metaxas writes, “To all of us wandering together here now, looking for William Wilberforce…” That is it! To all of us in the Harding community who are taking part in Harding Read 2016, we know exactly what “looking for Wilberforce” feels like. We now sense a connection to him that we can’t quite explain. He is both friend and hero, both bigger than life and yet a strangely comfortable companion. Amazing Grace leaves us wanting to continue this relationship, and so we go “looking for William Wilberforce.”

For a few short days in England, Ann and I are planning to visit some of the places that will hopefully help us connect even more deeply with the man we have come to consider both friend and inspiration through reading Amazing Grace. We want to walk where he walked and touch some of the things he touched. In this way, we will spend the week “looking for William Wilberforce.”

Our journey began this morning with a tour of Parliament. Though most of the buildings have been rebuilt since the time of Wilberforce because of fires or World War II bombings, there is still a strong sense of heritage, politics and government process within the walls of these iconic structures. As we stood (but were told in no uncertain terms not to sit!) between the red bench seats in the House of Lords, we remembered that the final bill to abolish the slave trade was introduced by British Prime Minister William Grenville to this group first as Wilberforce was “watching from the gallery, and doubtless on pins and needles throughout” (Metaxas, p. 206).

We then walked the short distance to the House of Commons, the room filled with the familiar green bench seats that we sometimes see featured in Parliamentary debates on CSPAN. There we imagined Wilberforce rising to his feet, year after painfully frustrating year, to introduce yet another bill to abolish the slave trade in the British Empire. And I thought of how thankful I was that John Newton had counseled the terribly confused and deeply distressed Wilberforce that he did not need to leave politics to serve God. Instead, according to Metaxas, “Newton encouraged Wilberforce to stay where he was, saying that God could use him there” (Metaxas, p. 59). “There” meant the place where we were standing: the British House of Commons.

All of this led up to the highlight of the morning, and I have to confess that I almost missed it. Our last stop with our guide was in St. Stephen’s Hall. Today, it is a beautifully ornate room that seems more of a passageway than a historic chamber. On either side of the room, there are the familiar green benches that we had earlier seen in the modern-day House of Commons. Then our guide told us in a somewhat offhanded way that St. Stephen’s Hall (now a chapel) was where the House of Commons met from 1547 to 1834. Then, as the British sometimes say, “The penny dropped.” I asked our guide, “So this is the place where the final decision was made to abolish slavery?” He said yes, and we headed to the next stop on the tour. But Ann and I realized that we were in the hallowed place where the deeply moving scene described by Metaxas on pages 210 and 211 took place. Because of Harding Read 2016, we had been here before! We were sitting where Wilberforce, realizing that the moment had finally come, after 20 years of frustration, and the slave trade was about to be voted out of business in the British Empire. We were sitting where Wilberforce was “overcome, and taking his head in his hands, he wept” (Metaxas, p. 210).

We came here “looking for Wilberforce” and in a small way this morning, we found him in Parliament. Stop 2 will be Westminster Abbey.

Bruce McLarty
London, England
August 3, 2016


Monday, we welcomed high school students from across the state for the Jostens All In Yearbook Workshop. Students attended workshops on design, photography, headline writing and storytelling.

Today, they left campus with a new set of skills in their toolbox to tackle their school’s yearbook in the coming school year. They also left with something a little less tangible — a greater sense of story and what it means to be a part of a yearbook staff.

Tomorrow, I sit down to construct the ladder — the blueprint of content — for the Petit Jean, Harding’s yearbook. The construction of the ladder is a catalyst to the greater task that is to come.

Too often, I feel like people don’t understand the significance of a yearbook. Sure, it’s a neat book to look through to find yourself and your friends or to find pictures of your social club winning the club basketball championship. But there is something greater to a yearbook than simply pictures and words on pages. It’s what those elements work together to create.

As I’ve thought about what I want the 2016-17 Petit Jean to reflect, one idea has made itself home in my mind. It’s not an idea of what I want the design or photos to look like or how I want the headlines written and formatted. It’s an idea that I hope 40 years from now someone will appreciate.

It’s the idea that in 40 years, when someone is trying to compile a list of Homecoming musicals or find pieces to document Dr. Bruce McLarty’s presidency, they’ll look at the Petit Jean that my staff has created and be impressed — impressed that we thought 40 years in advance and with that made deliberate and well-thought out choices on what Harding’s story is going to be for that year.

Because 40 years from now, no one is going to remember off the top of their head which professor won a national award for their research or which social club took home the Spring Sing sweepstakes award. But what they are going to do is look to the Petit Jean.

My staff and I have the greatest task — to document Harding’s story for 2016-17. That task involves decisions about what to include in Harding’s history and how we tell that story. It’s not a task to be taken lightly, and it’s not a task that we’ll take for granted. It’s that task these high school students on campus this week take to heart, too.

Monday, those students came to campus to learn.

Today, they leave ready to document the history of their school.

And 40 years from now, we’ll all look back on our books and be pleased with what we’ve done because it’s more than just pages, paper and photographs. It’s a story about the place we love. For the Petit Jean staff and me, that’s Harding. And that’s perhaps one of the greatest things we’ll do while we’re here.

Kaleb Turner, Petit Jean editor-in-chief



Ben Treme, assistant director of admissions, works with students in Central Arkansas and Western and Southern Texas who are interested in attending Harding.

“Our campus is beautiful, but I think the community makes it a lot more beautiful,” Treme said. “Harding is just a very relational place, and I think people say that a lot, but once you’re here, you really experience that firsthand.”

During the summer, Treme’s role in admissions takes a bit of a different role — a role that finds him spending more time in the state and simply relaxing.

“I try to do a lot of retention in the summer,” Treme said. “With students who are accepted to come in the fall, I’ll try to visit with them face-to-face during the summer — not so much travel to recruit, but travel to keep.”

For Treme, an incredible product of the admissions process is the relationships and connections it fosters — relationships and connections that last throughout students’ entire time at Harding.

“The relationships that you get to continue are something really special,” he said. “Last year was my first class — fall 2015. A lot of those students still come to my house for Bible study every Wednesday night, so that progression of the relationship is really special.”

When he’s not making connections with students during the summer or helping students find their way around campus at Summer Stampede, Treme enjoys taking advantage of the time off.

“[My wife] and I are both very content with just driving and spending a day at the lake,” he said. “We could get there and do nothing and be happy that we’re there. We love peace and calm. I think part of that is because I travel a lot during the fall and spring, so during the summer I really enjoy relaxing.”

To his incoming freshmen, Treme gives survival tips based on his experience as a freshman at Harding, like don’t sit in your dorm room and spend your days on a PlayStation.

“Get out of your dorm room, meet people and get plugged in,” he said. “There are so many things for you to get involved in and so many people for you to meet; you just need get out there and do it.”

Kaleb Turner, public relations intern

If you follow anyone on the Harding magazine staff or in the public relations office on Instagram, you may have seen #tjhjk16 used a lot this summer. On June 7, Tim Cox, Jennifer Hannigan, Jeff Montgomery, Kelly Brackett and I began an office photo challenge. The hashtag is made up of the first letter of our first names. Each week, a new person picks a theme for the photos of the week. It’s been a great way to stretch our creative muscles during the slower-paced summertime, and I’ve really enjoyed seeing our different perspectives on each week’s theme. Here are our favorite photos from a week in which we each chose the theme.

Week 1: Curves

"I had been looking up photo challenges to help me get better at photography and found one that was based on curves. I liked the idea of the many directions that I and everyone could go with that to think outside the box, or wheel that is." -Tim Cox

“I had been looking up photo challenges to help me get better at photography and found one that was based on curves. I liked the idea of the many directions that I and everyone could go with that to think outside the box, or wheel that is.” -Tim Cox, graphic designer

Week 2: Texture

"When I picked the theme of texture, I knew I wanted to get this picture. I love the contrasting textures between the bricks and hydrangeas by Brackett Library. Since I'm just an iPhone photographer who mainly focuses on taking pictures of my kids, texture seemed like a good way to look for different subjects without being too overwhelming." -Jennifer Hannigan

“When I picked the theme of texture, I knew I wanted to get this picture. I love the contrasting textures between the bricks and hydrangeas by Brackett Library. Since I’m just an iPhone photographer who mainly focuses on taking pictures of my kids, texture seemed like a good way to look for different subjects without being too overwhelming.” -Jennifer Hannigan, copy editor/writer

Week 3: Joy

"The more joy you look for in your life, the more you find it. What gives you joy? What do you do to bring others joy? This week, I wanted to practice actively seeking joy in my life while also finding that emotion with my eyes." -Hannah Owens

“The more joy you look for in your life, the more you find it. What gives you joy? What do you do to bring others joy? This week, I wanted to practice actively seeking joy in my life while also finding that emotion with my eyes.” -Hannah Owens, director of digital media

Week 4: Black and white

"This week I picked B&W as the theme. B&W is much bigger than just converting an image to monochrome with a filter or an editing app. Well done B&W requires attention to lighting and specifically shadows and contrast." -Jeff Montgomery

“This week I picked B&W as the theme. B&W is much bigger than just converting an image to monochrome with a filter or an editing app. Well done B&W requires attention to lighting and specifically shadows and contrast.” -Jeff Montgomery, director of photography

Week 5: America


“Picking “America!” as the theme for the week was a natural decision, as I consider myself fiercely patriotic, and Independence Day happened to fall on Monday of my week. My favorite photo is of historic Smyrna Methodist Church, built in 1854. It is the oldest church building in Arkansas, and to me represents generations of people freely worshiping their God.” -Kelly Brackett, secretary

We’re circling back around on taking turns choosing photos for the week, and each photo we take gets better and better. Follow along with us for the rest of the summer, and see all of the moments we’ve captured so far: #tjhjk16 photos.

-Hannah Owens, director of digital media


Harvard University, Nashville, Montana and England. What do all of these places have in common? They’re all places President Bruce McLarty will have visited when summer 2016 comes to a close. But despite the travel, one of McLarty’s most cherished summertime memories unfolds much closer to home.

“One of the highlights of the summer is having the grandkids at our house one at a time,” McLarty said. “And one of my wife’s greatest pleasures in life is spoiling grandchildren. So to have them come for several days at a time with the one-on-one attention is about as good as it gets.”

For McLarty, his summer travel is a mix of business and family. He just arrived back in Searcy from a trip to Harvard University where he was attending the Advancement Leadership for University Presidents conference. Earlier in the summer, he traveled to Nashville with family to celebrate his mother’s birthday, and at the end of this month he’ll travel to Montana to visit his daughter.

Perhaps the biggest trip on McLarty’s summer travel agenda will be his trip to England in August, where he’ll explore the life and history of William Wilberforce — the central character of the University’s yearlong Harding Read book, Amazing Grace by Eric Metaxas.

“As the University prepares for Harding Read this year, we thought it would be really timely to go to England and just do nothing but Wilberforce things,” McLarty said. “We’ll go to Westminster Abbey and see where he is buried, the National Portrait Gallery and see the pictures of him there, and the Bodleian Library at Oxford and see where his papers and journals are. Then we’ll wrap up by going to the town of Hull where he was born and lived and where his museum is. It’ll be a quick trip, but it’ll be fascinating to touch these spots in his life.”

On campus during the summer, McLarty gets to focus on bettering the University for the coming year, but he also takes time to enjoy in the campus’s summertime beauty.

“Right now the crepe myrtles are out, and the flower beds on campus have been cared for in just a magnificent way,” McLarty said. “When you just open your eyes and look for it, there is magnificent color on this campus during the summer.”

So when classes begin in the fall, you’ll find Dr. McLarty well traveled and well loved by his grandkids. And you’ll find him eagerly awaiting his opportunity to welcome you back to Harding.

Kaleb Turner, public relations intern


If you ask around, many students attend Harding for a succinct, precise reason. Their parents attended Harding. They attended Uplift and fell in love with the campus. Attending a Christian university was top of their list.

Neither of my parents attended Harding, and I didn’t know what Uplift was until last semester. Attending a Christian university was definitely a plus for me, but it didn’t top my must-haves-for-a-college checklist.

Honestly, I wanted to get further away from home, and the 20-minute drive from my hometown of Pangburn to campus wasn’t what I had in mind. For the longest time, I said I wouldn’t go to Harding, but I know now it’s one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

I came to Harding because on my list of three colleges I might be interested in, the other two didn’t overwhelm me. Was it the people? Was it the facilities? Was it the campus? It was all three, definitely, but I couldn’t exactly put my finger on it. The other options just weren’t Harding.

All this to say: I guess I don’t have a grand story about why I decided to attend Harding University. I didn’t desire to continue a family legacy or call Harding home after years of visiting as a young lad.

And I think that’s OK.

Since I made my decision to attend Harding, my relationships have flourished and my life has gained more precious memories. My story is greater, and my love for others is more profound all because I made a decision to attend Harding.

So, whether your decision to attend Harding was one of grandeur or one more like mine, we all have a story to tell about why we chose Harding. And now we have an even greater story about how our lives have changed here in the foothills of the Ozarks, midst hill and plain, at our beloved Harding.

Kaleb Turner, public relations intern

2016-224 Hannah Wood-candid-003

She’s the queen of throwback Thursday and your number one ally in a national treasure hunt on Harding’s campus.

Archives and Special Collections Librarian Hannah Wood is charged with documenting and archiving the decades of history made by thousands of Harding students, faculty and staff.

“This past semester I was looking for a couple of books that were missing, and I picked up this really old Bible that I stumbled across,” Wood said. “In the middle it had a section where you could list births, deaths and marriages, and I realized that it was James A. Harding’s family Bible. That really reminded me that this job is so interesting because I get to make these connections to big events and big people in Harding history.”

Like most places on campus, Wood said the summer pace is definitely slower, but the library staff stays just as busy. From assessing the previous school year to figuring out ways to make students’ research and studying easier, the library staff doesn’t take a break during the summer.

A major undertaking for the library staff this summer is implementing a program where each student on campus will have a personal librarian at their disposal for research and resource tips within the library.

“We know the library isn’t a scary place and that librarians are some of the coolest people on campus, but we also know that the library can be intimidating to those unfamiliar with it, and we hope the personal librarian program will help dispel some of that intimidation,” Wood said.

Among other changes, Wood said the library will have new stand-up desks, stationary bike desks and Windows 10 all on computers when students return in the fall.

If you recognize her face but can’t remember where from, here’s a hint: Searcy Summer Dinner Theatre. When she’s not busy being the gatekeeper to Harding history, you might find Wood on stage — something she has loved doing since she was a high school student in Searcy.

“The program produces great shows with great-quality people in the production,” Wood said. “We have so much fun, and I think that shows in the productions themselves. We all enjoy doing what we do and doing it together. It’s kind of like a second family during the summers.”

While students are away, Wood also spends more time making a dent in her reading list. She confirmed that librarians are there because they really like books, but she said there’s more to it than just that.

“We have a passion to help students find what they need to further their education,” Wood said. “There’s so much information out there to get your hands on, and we’re here to make your research easier.”

Kaleb Turner, public relations intern


On Monday, July 1, 1776, a thunderstorm swept through Philadelphia. Peals of thunder shook the Pennsylvania State House where several dozen anxious and angry men had gathered to decide the fate of the colonies. As lightning flashed, a steady rain beat down on the tall windows of the old, brick building.

Inside, the men were anguished over the decision before them. It had taken some months to finally reach this moment. Pennsylvania’s most respected speaker and jurist, John Dickinson, argued for two hours for reconciliation — not to stop fighting, but to continue to fight until the colonists had secured equality as Englishmen.

Massachusetts’ John Adams stood at the end of Dickinson’s long and eloquent exposition, and in the thunderstorm, the man Thomas Jefferson referred to as “the colossus of that Congress” made his plea — not for reconciliation, but for independence. At the beginning he said he “wished for the Talents and Eloquence of the ancient Orators of Greece and Rome, for [he] was very sure that none of them ever had before him a question of more Importance to his Country and to the World.”

Adams told his countrymen that it was time. “Sink or swim, live or die, survive or perish,” he said. “I give my hand and my heart to this vote. It is true, indeed, that in the beginning we aimed not at independence … But ‘there’s a Divinity which shapes our ends.’ The injustice of England has driven us to arms, and blinded to her own interest for our good, she has obstinately persisted, till independence is now within our grasp. We have but to reach forth to it, and it is ours.” One onlooker called Adams the “Atlas of American Independence” and another “fancied an angel was let down from heaven to illumine Congress.”

Adams’ words stirred the debate, and it went long into the night and began early the next day. At that very moment British General William Howe’s massive invasion fleet arrived off the coast of New York with some 100 warships, 400 transports and perhaps 35,000 men. It was the largest fleet ever seen in America up to that time. The very campaign designed to capture the Hudson River and split the colonies commenced even as Congress debated.

At length the assembly voted. It was then July 2, 1776. Twelve colonies voted for independence; New York abstained, waiting for permission from its state assembly. Congressional President John Hancock and Secretary Charles Thomson signed the document.

With some changes, it was approved by Congress on July 4. On July 5, the new Declaration was circulated on the streets of Philadelphia and the citizens gathered to applause and gave three loud cheers “God bless the Free State of North America!” Church bells “rang out joyously” and every citizen lighted a candle in every window in their homes.

Despite the joyous celebration on July 5, Adams felt that July 2 would “be the most memorable epoch in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival.” As it turned out, the “approved” declaration was dated as July 4, and that date has become fixed as Independence Day. In reality, however, it was July 2 in which the fateful decision was reached — and it was not until Aug. 2 that all the signers affixed their signatures.

American independence was truly a new epoch, one in which the birth of a new republic wrested for all men the torch of liberty from the despotism of monarchy and one in which simple human dignity stood above the pompous claims of titled nobility. Free people everywhere should celebrate the birth of a nation dedicated to those ends. Benjamin Franklin, writing to his countrymen from France, would later say, “It is a common observation here, that [the American Revolution] is the cause of all mankind; and that we are fighting for their liberty in defending our own.” Years later, after the French Revolution, the Marquis de Lafayette sent his friend George Washington the key to the French prison The Bastille as a symbol of this signal American contribution to liberty around the world.

And though it was a great new epoch, it was not the greatest of them all — that one came long before, with a humble birth in a stable, which marked the arrival of a true savior for all mankind.

Dr. Shawn Fisher, assistant professor of history

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