January 4, 2016
MARSHALL NEWS MESSENGER (12/20/15) - "A time of worship and celebration" is how Dr. J. Blair Blackburn, president of East Texas Baptist University, described Saturday's fall commencement, as ETBU bestowed degrees upon 82 graduates.
"Some universities have both the baccalaureate religious service and commencement ceremony (at different times)," Blackburn said. "At ETBU, both programs are joined together in both services.
"We view graduation ceremony, here at ETBU, as a true spiritual worship experience, as well as an opportunity to recognize these graduates for their accomplishments," he said.
A total of 64 students received undergraduate degrees; 18 received master's degrees.
During the program, Dr. Thomas R. Webster, Dean of the School of Communication and Performing Arts, led attendees in a carol of the season, "Joy to the World." Jovana Nieto, who graduated with a bachelor's in university studies Saturday, gave the invocation. All joined Dr. Webster in the singing of the university hymn, "To God Be the Glory."
Graduate Thomas Warren Jr., who received his bachelor's in psychology, provided the scripture reading of Proverbs 3:5-6, the university's adopted theme verse, and Matthew 28:19-20. The University Singers blessed the crowd with the choral worship song, "This Little Babe."
"We are a facility that raises, equips and empowers generations of anointed servant leaders from across the globe," Dr. Blackburn said as he welcomed all to the services.
He said ETBU is committed to being a distinctively Christ-centered university, dedicated to pleasing God by producing Christ-like servant leaders, students and graduates who will transform the world for the glory of God.
"ETBU is a university that's committed to an innovative network that connects nearly 10,000 graduates," Blackburn said. "We equip those graduates to flourish, to go out and be empowered servants who are desperate to see the body of Christ rise up and live obedient and sacrificially in service to God and humanity."
He added that ETBU is an institution that believes in prayer, praying for wisdom of God to fulfill His divine will in the lives of all.
"We know that we are to reflect the life of Christ," Blackburn told graduates. "We've been called to be that light. You graduates are to be beacons of light for this generation."
He said the educational process that the graduates have experienced has been a labor of love.
"It's taken love and encouragement and support, financial dollars... right... to push you through your college experiences," he said, getting some chuckles and "Amens" from approving parents.
Blackburn said many of those people who supported the students, who paid and prayed for them, were there to celebrate for the occasion. He thanked and recognized all, from grandparents to off campus friends, for coming to support the graduates.
"Thanks for the love and encouragement you provided," Blackburn told supporters.
"Thank you for taking the time to be a part of this milestone," he said.
He also recognized faculty members, who pour themselves into ETBU, encouraging students along the way.
"We know that the Lord has equipped you graduates to be prepared to live and serve the Lord and the call he has for your life," Blackburn said.
In his charge to the graduates, Dr. Thomas Sanders, ETBU Vice President for Academic and Graduate Programs, challenged the students to live a Christ-like life.
"Every day we come to a choice to decide between things that satisfy us on a short-term basis or something that's going to satisfy and complete us for eternity," he said. "I want to say to you graduates today, that's exactly what you're going to be facing.
"We live in a world where we say: 'Children, you are special' from the very beginning. Your parents are here today because you are special and they love you.
But, "Here's the thing we have to remember - yes, our children are special, and, yes, you are special, but that does not mean you are so special that you get to live your life the way you want to live your life," Sanders said.
He said when it comes to career and relationship decisions, graduates will have to decide if they are going to do what fulfills them or what fulfills God's calling on their lives.
"The challenge for you is to move away from self and to move towards God," Sanders told graduates.
"You're going to have to decide, 'how do you manage power?'" Sanders advised. "You're going to have to decide, 'who is the audience?' Who am I going to please?'"
"We have to decide that the calling is greater than the praise, the possessions and the power (in our journey)," Sanders said.
(Used by permission www.marshallnewsmessenger.com, story by MNM reporter Robin Y. Richardson)