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ETBU Spring 2022 commencement services return to pre-pandemic celebrations

May 7, 2022

East Texas Baptist University held two Spring Commencement ceremonies to honor the 2022 spring graduates on Saturday, May 7, at 10:00 a.m. and 2:00 p.m. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the ceremonies as 186 students received undergraduate degrees and 22 earned graduate degrees, for a total of 208 graduates.

"Graduating Class of 2022, 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 as we watched you grow in mind, body, and spirit. We are excited to see you follow God's calling on your life."

This spring, after two years of varying health and safety guidelines and restrictions, the University returned to its pre-pandemic pomp and circumstance festivities. Graduates, whose majority of their college experience was affected by the COVID-19 pandemic, were able to conclude their time on the Hill in a truly celebratory fashion.

"The fact that I do not have to walk across that stage with a mask covering my face, and I have the ability to shake Dr. Blackburn's hand is priceless to me," ETBU speech communication graduate Creed Spenrath said. "My time on the Hill has truly been amazing and an experience that I am eternally grateful for. The friendships, experiences, and knowledge I have gained from this place are something I can't put a price tag on. ETBU has been a place that has pushed me, encouraged me, and more importantly pointed me in the direction that God has for my life."

The keynote speaker for the first ceremony was Pastor of GraceWorks Counseling Ministry Ken Brumley. Brumley is a 1977 graduate of East Texas Baptist University and holds a Master's degree with a focus on Marriage and Family Counseling from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.

"When I came to ETBC, I was a broken young man in need of God's grace," Brumley said. "It was here that I experienced God's deep cleansing forgiveness. To speak at this commencement brings back powerful memories of God's faithfulness and love."

ETBU Associate Professor of History Dr. Jenny Hoover gave the commencement address to Schools of Communication and Performing Arts, Natural and Social Sciences, and Nursing. She encouraged graduates as they leave their community on the Hill and find new communities that point them closer to Christ.

"Graduates, your work the over the last few years has brought you to this moment and we are here, as a community, to recognize your work and to send you out into the work God has called you to," Dr. Hoover said. "As you reflect on your time on the Hill, I want you to see a larger community at work preparing you to be a Christian servant leader in the life that God has called you to. It has been the goal of faculty and administration to model community for you, sharing your burdens and lifting you in prayer. When faculty carried your refrigerators and your collection of shoes to your dorm room on move-in day, we shared your burden. When a faculty member came along side you and patiently helped you work through math problem, they were sharing your burden. As you leave this place today and you go out into the world to shine the light of Christ, find a church community that will help you live out your calling to serve with all of your mind, body and soul."

Each semester, ETBU President Blackburn presents an award to a graduate who represents a Christian leader, scholar, and servant within the campus and the local community. Christian Lee Phillips, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Rehabilitative Science, received the President's Award for the Spring 2022 graduating class. From Murphy, Texas, Phillips has consistently demonstrated ETBU's core commitments during his time on the Hill. His humble spirit and servant's heart, together with his demonstrated leadership, have distinguished him in the classroom, the mission field, and in ministry - specifically, Baptist Student Ministry, where he served as small group leader, outreach team member, prayer team member and BSM President. Christian has maintained a GPA of 3.95 and remained on the President's list each semester at ETBU. His academic excellence has gained him admission to Texas Women's University's esteemed Doctor of Physical Therapy program. In addition to Christian's academic achievements and servant leadership as a Residence Assistant and in BSM, Christian also participated in two Beach Reach missions trips and is a Children's Ministry intern at Mobberly Baptist Church in Marshall.

His mentors have this to say about him: "He exhibits the heart of a true disciple-maker and servant leader." And "Christian goes out of his way to be the hands and feet of Jesus through encouragement and service."

In 2013, ETBU established a recognition for faculty who excel in service, scholarship, teaching, and integration of faith and learning. Dr. Jeph Holloway was recognized with the 2022 Professor with Distinction Award. Dr. Holloway joined ETBU in 2001, and he currently serves as Professor of Christian Ministry and the John Harris Endowed Chair of Christian Studies. One student said of Dr. Holloway, "his office door is always open for students who have problems, need advice, or just need to talk."

A colleague explains Dr. Holloway's approach to integrating his Christian faith in his interactions with students in this way, "He never tries to make this challenge easy or succumbs to the temptation to oversimplify what it means to live a Christian life, and his students love him for it."

Another colleague observes that "Dr. Holloway is a scholar who, in faith, has spent his life studying the most important questions that people can ask. In humility, he has allowed his research to be a part of Christ's transformative work in his life, and by extension, the lives of countless others. Dr. Holloway is a model for all of us to follow as we teach and learn as part of our calling to live the lives for which God created us."