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December 5, 2020

East Texas Baptist University’s December 2020 graduates were recognized on Saturday, December 5, during two commencement ceremonies at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the socially-distanced ceremonies as 104 students received undergraduate degrees and 26 earned graduate degrees, for a total of 130 graduates. Students were allowed to choose their participation style, either “in-person” or “virtual” at the celebratory worship services.

“After finishing out the Spring 2020 semester remotely, University leadership vowed to do whatever it took to host the safest and healthiest in-person Christ-centered learning experience possible for the Fall 2020 semester,” Dr. Blackburn said. “While many other colleges offered only remote learning or canceled on-campus graduation ceremonies, ETBU faculty and staff have gone the extra mile to bring us all together on the Hill today In the midst of this pandemic, we are proud to be able to provide you with some form of normalcy as we recognize and honor the accomplishments of the new ETBU Tiger graduates. The Kingdom-building mandate, etched by God on the heart of this University, inspires and calls ETBU to educate, equip, and empower generations of Christian servant leaders. ETBU is devoted to this mission as we strive to produce graduates who profess the hope of God through Christ Jesus.”

Vice President of the Marshall Education Foundation and current Chair of the Board of Trustees of East Texas Baptist University Keith Hill addressed the graduates during the morning ceremony, and encouraged them to embrace their story as they head into their vocational callings.

“As believers, we trust that God has planned our lives for His glory,” Mr. Hill said. “That includes work. I encourage you to be good stewards of what He’s given you and seek balance. It will be a continual struggle, but make it a priority. God has orchestrated your story. What has happened in your life has led you to be sitting here today, listening to me, and about to receive your diploma. If you take a moment to reflect, you will see God in it all. You have grown spiritually, intellectually, and relationally. New chapters to your story are on your horizons. Go do big things for the Kingdom. Be a good alumni, represent ETBU well, don’t forget where you came from, and embrace your story.”

Each semester, Dr. Blackburn presents an award to a graduate who represents a Christian leader, scholar, and servant within the campus and the local community. Denedra Taylor, graduating summa cum laude with a Bachelor of Arts in Psychology, received the President’s Award for the Fall 2020 graduating class. Denedra has maintained a 3.97 GPA while pursuing her degree, and she is a member of Psi Chi international honor society, Pi Gamma Mu International Honor Society, and Alpha Chi National College Honor Society. Her strong commitment to academics has not deterred her from service on campus and in the community. She is an active member of her church, a volunteer coach with the Boys and Girls Club of the Big Pines, and a Thrive peer mentor. She has also been a member of the ETBU Women’s Basketball program. Denedra has already been granted admission to the Harrison Graduate School at the Southwestern Assemblies of God University.

“Denedra Taylor is a phenomenal person,” Head Coach of ETBU Women’s Basketball Blake Arborgast said. “She is one of the most humble servants of God. Her faith is outstanding, and although she is typically a soft-spoken person, she is very confident in her faith. With all she had to overcome, she has shown ultimate Kingdom faith and put all her trust in the Lord. She leads by action and lets the overflow of the Lord pour out to those she comes in contact with daily.”

During the afternoon ceremony, ETBU’s Dean of the School of Education, recent Texas Association of Colleges of Teacher Education (TACTE) Leadership Award recipient, and devoted teacher for over 25 years, John Sargent, gave the charge to the graduating class to find happiness and fulfillment through loving like Jesus.

“Learning to love like Jesus Christ is a lifelong project,” Dr. Sargent said. “Spread love everywhere you go. Be faithful in the small things because it is in them that your strength lies. Yesterday is gone, tomorrow has not yet come. We have only today, so let us begin anew. My words might be short and easy to speak, but the echo of showing love is truly endless.”