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132 graduates conferred during ETBU’s Fall 2021 Commencement

December 11, 2021

East Texas Baptist University presented 132 graduates with degrees during two commencement ceremonies on Saturday, December 11, in Baker Chapel of the Rogers Spiritual Life Center. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the ceremony as 83 students received undergraduate degrees and 49 received graduate degrees.

“Graduating Class of 2021, congratulations on the earning of your degree,” Dr. Blackburn said. “It is a remarkable achievement, indeed a tremendous accomplishment, for which we are so very proud of you. Your journey in the pursuit, discovery, and application of God’s truths does not end here on this Hill.  Commencement at East Texas Baptist is a celebration of the earning of your bachelor’s and master’s degrees.  We rejoice with your family, friends, staff, and faculty in watching you prepare for your vocation and follow God’s calling on your life.”

The first of the two ceremonies featured a keynote address from Dr. Jeph Holloway, Professor of Christian Ministry for ETBU. Dr. Holloway has been teaching in Baptist higher education since 1990 and celebrates his calling to help prepare young men and women for the great work of Christian ministry. He earned his Bachelor of Arts in Psychology from Georgia State University. He earned both his Master of Divinity and Doctor of Philosophy from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. Before coming to East Texas Baptist University in 2001, he previously taught at Williams Baptist College in Walnut Ridge, Arkansas, and Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dr. Holloway teaches in the areas of Biblical Studies, Philosophy, and Christian Ethics.

“This is an exciting occasion,” Dr. Holloway said. “In just a few moments, you graduates will rise from your seats, climb the stairs when you hear your name called, and move from one side of the stage to the other side. It might take all of maybe 12 to 14 steps, but the move from this side to the other side is monumental. You don't move to the other side without the love and support of important people. You don't get from this side to the other side without long hours of hard work; papers, exams, and presentations. The journey from this side to the other side was also new discipline and perseverance on your part. To go from this side to the other side has been epic—an epic almost of biblical proportions. Coming for you is a journey from the known to the unknown. Coming from the familiar to the unexpected. Some of you might be at a point of uncertainty, and you're wondering if the Lord cares about you. But I can promise you this, if you simply declare how Jesus has had mercy on you, then wonder and awe will follow.”

Dr. Roy Cotton, Coordinator of the Ambassador Program for Texas Baptists, gave the charge to the graduates during the second ceremony. Dr. Roy J. Cotton, Sr., is a native of Dallas. Dr. Cotton is a graduate of the University of Texas at Arlington, where he received a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology. He continued his ministry preparation at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth graduating with the Master of Church Music. Dr. Cotton earned a Doctor of Ministry from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. Dr. Cotton has extensive denominational ministry experience. He served the Baptist General Association of Virginia for 21 years, and the past 22 years of service with Texas Baptists (Baptist General Convention of Texas). During his tenure with Texas Baptists, Dr. Cotton served as Director of African-American ministries. Since his retirement, he continues to support Texas Baptists as Coordinator of the Ambassador program.

“In the University of Life we do enroll, but we do not graduate,” Dr. Cotton said. “Yes, you will always be a student. So keep sharpening the saw. Keep growing. The Bible says grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior. I pray that you will live a missional lifestyle where you can make a difference in our world. You are now entering the University of Life. From here, to eternity. To God be the glory for the great things He has done, the great things He is doing, and the great things He will do. Congratulations on behalf of Texas Baptists, including the entire staff, the officers of the Baptist General Convention of Texas, and the 5,300 churches. All of us have been in your corner and have been praying for you. We extend to you our congratulations, best wishes, and blessings on your wonderful future.”

The worship ceremony featured Scripture readings, praise and worship through song, prayers, and blessings over the graduates. In her prayer over her fellow graduates, Master of Arts in Christian Ministry graduate Emily Hicks shared, “I pray for all of my fellow graduates as we are about to enter a world of unknowns. I pray that God will continue to guide us and lead us only through the doors of His will.  As some of us will be beginning a new career, some of us getting married, and while some of us may still have questions unanswered, may God always lead us and guide us in every season of our lives.”

Each commencement, the President’s Award is given to the graduating ETBU student who is the best representation of a Christian leader, scholar, and servant. Graduating with a Bachelor of Business Administration in Management, Alayna Grace Scull is the recipient of the 2021 President’s Award. She has consistently demonstrated ETBU's core commitments during her time on the Hill. According to her professors, her positive, caring spirit and tireless commitment to excellence have distinguished her in the classroom, leading worship, and in the community. Alayna has maintained a 4.00 GPA while pursuing her degree. She is a member of Sigma Beta Delta Society and the 2021 recipient of the Business Department's Academic Excellence Award. Alayna is also the Baptist Student Ministry leader for worship and prayer.

"Alayna has demonstrated the true model of a servant leader during her time at ETBU,” a mentor of Scull said. “From the classroom, to volunteering on campus and throughout the community and her church, to serving as a Resident Assistant and working in Campus Services and Admissions, Alayna always has a smile on her face and is a great representative for ETBU. Alayna embraces her role as a leader on campus and continually makes time to invest in the lives of those around her."

ETBU offers 15 graduate and 45+ undergraduate degree programs, and has seen a 41% increase in enrollment over the last ten years. While East Texas Baptist continues to see increased enrollment, its mission of providing a transformational, Christ-centered education and commitment to helping students succeed remains constant.

“East Texas Baptist first awarded associate degrees in 1919 and bachelor’s degrees in 1945,” Dr. Sanders said. “Commencement is a special time in the life of a university. It is an event that celebrates the relationship between students and faculty. It is also a time for both the University and the families of the graduates to join in pride and celebration. Our charge to the graduates encourages them to be lifelong learners. The ‘light of knowledge’ displayed here on the stage is a replica of the light which stands in front of Marshall Hall. This light serves as a symbol of ETBU’s commitment to the integration of academic discipline and faith in Jesus Christ. Each student’s hard work under the combined guidance and support of these faculty members, family, and friends has resulted in the accomplishments we recognize today.”