June 13, 2020
East Texas Baptist University held its Spring 2020 Commencement ceremonies on Saturday, June 13, at 10:00 a.m. and 2:30 p.m. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the socially distanced ceremonies as 173 students received undergraduate degrees and 20 earned graduate degrees, for a total of 193 graduates. Students were allowed to choose their participation style either “in-person” or “virtual” at the celebratory worship services. ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders, along with the University Deans, donned their academic regalia in honor of the graduates and their achievements.
“Commencement is a special time in the life of a University,” Dr. Sanders said. “It is a time for celebration for both the University and the families to join together with pride in celebration of the accomplishments of these students. Each student’s hard work, under the guidance and support of faculty members, staff, family members, and friends has resulted in the accomplishments we recognize today.”
The Honorable Bryan Hughes, who currently serves as Texas State Senator for District 1, gave the charge to graduates during both ceremonies. “Graduates, the degree you’re receiving, regardless of your major, has been structured around you as a person,” Senator Hughes said. “Normally at graduations, all of the graduates are sitting together, while their families and friends are spread out throughout the room. This year, it’s unique to have graduates sitting with their families, their friends, with the ones who supported them, prayed for them, who sacrificed for them to get here. This has been structured around you. This degree that you worked hard to earn and this whole experience was designed to help you answer those fundamental questions of life that point us to the Lord Jesus.” Senator Hughes is known for defending the American Dream, and challenged the audience to seek out equality and justice. During his address, he inspired graduates to dream big as they go forth to serve in their respective vocations and point people to Christ.
“East Texas Baptist University was incredibly grateful to welcome graduates and their families back to the Hill for this day of celebration as we worshiped the Lord and recognized their successes and accomplishments,” Dr. Blackburn said. “Regardless of what happened the last semester of their final year at ETBU, God has a plan and purpose for their life as graduates. We have heritages among our campus that help and shape each of us into whose we are and who we are to be in Christ. We praise God as He has developed ETBU into a mosaic quilt. With people that represent the communities and cultures of our East Texas Region and across the world, we are grateful for all of the students, and especially our Spring 2020 graduates, who God called to be part of this University.”
Each semester, ETBU President Blackburn presents an award to a graduate who represents a Christian leader, scholar, and servant within the campus and local community. Hanna Perry, graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in English and a minor in Biology, received the President’s Award for the Spring 2020 graduating class. On campus, Perry served as a writing tutor for the English Department, and worked as a molecular biology lab/field researcher for the Biology Department. She was an active member of the Pom Team, Debate Team, a Centennial mentor, a TEAM Tiger mentor, Tiger Camp leader, President of Alpha Chi National College Honor Society, and President of Sigma Tau Delta English Honor Society. Off campus, Perry has been actively engaged at Immanuel Baptist Church, where she served as a Pre-K volunteer, is a member of an IBC covenant group, and a member of the college leadership team. Additionally, she volunteered at Sam Houston Elementary School as well as Dayspring Therapeutic Equine Center. Perry will soon begin Law School at Baylor University, where she received a full-tuition scholarship for her studies.
“Hanna is a faithful prayer warrior,” Assistant Professor of Chemistry Dr. Scott Morris said. “It is evident to everyone she meets that the Holy Spirit is active in her life. Her spiritual maturity both encourages and challenges me as I serve as a ministry leader in her life. I am certain that her Christian walk is not limited to this collegiate experience, as she is demonstrating incredible spiritual maturity in that she is prayerfully considering ways to fulfill the Great Commission in her future endeavors, be it at law school or beyond.”
During the ceremony, Dr. Warren Johnson, a Professor of Christian Ministry since 2005, was recognized as a Professor with Distinction for his excellence in service, scholarship, teaching, and integration of faith and learning. Dr. Johnson teaches courses in New Testament studies and in Koine (New Testament) Greek. He is known by faculty for setting an example of a Christian scholar, for his care of his students, and for his engagement in his students’ extra-curricular involvement outside of the classroom.
A student, who nominated Dr. Johnson, said “I have had Dr. Johnson for at least one class every semester I have been at ETBU, and that has been on purpose. His classes have consistently been nourishing to the mind and the soul. His teaching style makes the information accessible, yet he maintains an academic rigor that is admirable. Lastly, he has consistently integrated his own faith into his curriculum, and has provided opportunities for students to engage in the material spiritually.”
Spring 2020 Commencement was originally scheduled for May 9, but after adjustments in the wake of the coronavirus, the University remained committed to celebrating the 2020 graduating class of ETBU by rescheduling the event for a later date under national and state and health and safety guidelines. Graduates were able to dress in their cap and gown, and crossed the stage with pomp and circumstance to celebrate this hard-earned milestone achievement.
“America is groaning for an awakening, revival, healing, and restoration," Dr. Blackburn shared. "It is only through Christ’s love and through the Gospel that this can be possible. Our University reflects Christ’s calling for us to be a light on the Hill, a city on the Hill which cannot be hidden. I pray that each of us will have the character, the courage, and the compassion to shine Jesus’ light and love so that America’s people can live in peace and unity.”