May 6, 2023
East Texas Baptist University presented 177 graduates with degrees during its commencement ceremony on Saturday, May 6, in Baker Chapel of the Rogers Spiritual Life Center. ETBU President J. Blair Blackburn presided over the ceremony as 149 students received undergraduate degrees and 28 received graduate degrees. The worship ceremony featured Scripture readings, praise and worship through song, prayers, and blessings over the graduates, including words from Dr. Blackburn reminding those in attendance of the University’s Christ-centered mission.
“East Texas Baptist University is committed to being a distinctively Christ-centered University, dedicated to glorifying God by transforming students into Christian servant leaders through their time here on the Hill,” Dr. Blackburn said. “Our administration prayed over you before you enrolled, we prayed with you through your educational journey, and now we pray that God will take you, as educated, equipped, and empowered individuals, to make a bold imprint on this world for His glory.”
During the first ceremony, Rev. Robert Morris was presented with an Honorary Doctorate. Morris, senior pastor of Gateway Church, a multi-campus church based in the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex. Since it began in 2000, the church has grown to more than 100,000 active attendees. His television program airs in over 190 countries, and his radio program, "Worship & the Word with Pastor Robert," airs in more than 2,800 radio markets across America. He serves as chancellor of The King’s University and is the bestselling author of numerous books, including “The Blessed Life,” “Frequency,” “Beyond Blessed,” and “Take the Day Off.”
“ETBU is grateful to have the opportunity to bestow upon Pastor Robert Morris the Honorary Doctor of Divinity,” Dr. Blackburn said. “We are thankful for Dr. Morris’ ministry through Gateway Church and across the globe. His college education began at East Texas Baptist University, and we praise God for his Kingdom ministry outreach and spiritual leadership to touch lives with the Gospel of Jesus.”
Dr. Morris delivered the keynote address in the first ceremony and gave the graduates a charge to partner with the Lord to increase His Kingdom. “I want to tell you, you are a better ambassador now because of God's redemption and because of the hard work you have put in,” Morris said. “Congratulations, now go win the world for Christ.”
Dr. Gene Wilkes, President and Professor of New Testament and Leadership at B.H. Carroll Theological Seminary in Irving, Texas, gave the charge to the graduates in the second ceremony. Dr. Wilkes embraces the Institute’s mission to “equip men and women called to serve Christ in the diverse and global ministries of his church.” He has authored several books, including Jesus On Leadership: Timeless Wisdom on Servant Leadership” and “A New Way of Living: Practicing the Beatitudes Every Day.” Dr. Wilkes received his Ph.D. in New Testament Studies and Master of Divinity from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He graduated from Baylor University with a Bachelor of Arts in Religion and Greek. Dr. Wilkes served as Senior Pastor of Legacy Church, Plano, Texas, for 26 years prior to his time at B.H. Carroll. Along with his teaching ministry, Dr. Wilkes has written for various publications on topics from biblical commentary and Bible studies to devotionals and church administration/leadership issues. He speaks nationally and internationally on the topic of servant leadership and as a Bible teacher.
“God has a unique plan,” Dr. Wilkes said. “He's brought you to this place and He is sending you to many places. Your career, your vocation, is the platform for your calling to make disciples and be His disciple.”
During the second ceremony, Dr. Blackburn presented Joy Fenner (’56) with an Honorary Doctorate. Joy Fenner has encouraged mission work and missionary education around the globe her entire life. Fenner served two decades as executive director-treasurer of the Woman’s Missionary Union (WMU) of Texas (1981-2001) and was the first female president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas (2007-2008). In 2009 she was elected president of Texas WMU. Joy and her husband, Charlie, married in 1967 and packed their bags for Japan, where they served with the Southern Baptist Convention Foreign Mission Board as missionaries until 1980. In their service there, they grew to love the Japanese culture and people, looking to share the hope of Christ as often as possible.
“The recognition of alumna Joy Fenner with an honorary doctorate provides a clear example for our students, faculty, and staff of the goal of our mission statement – ‘to prepare graduates to be Christian Servant Leaders to God and humanity,’” ETBU Provost and Vice President for Academic Affairs Thomas Sanders said.
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. Annie Grace Walker, graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Education, received the President's Award for the Spring 2023 graduating class. Annie maintained a 4.0 GPA with her degree in Elementary Education. Her faithful service and leadership have distinguished her in the classroom, the mission field, and in ministry. During Annie's time at ETBU, she has served in residence life, student foundation, as a Titus leader, a Tiger Camp leader, a member of Leadership Fellows, and for three (3) years in the BSM prayer ministry. Annie has excelled academically and is presently a dedicated student-teacher. In 2022, Annie received the Bob and Gayle Riley Servant Leadership Award.
“She is faithfully one of our strongest leaders because she understands the mission of the Great Commission and allows the mission to move her towards obedience,” one ETBU faculty member shared. “All of this is reflected in her post-college plans, as she prepares to be an International Missions Board (IMB) journeyman.”
Dr. Doug Lockard, Professor of Music and the Chair of the Department of Music, was recognized with the 2023 Professor with Distinction Award for his excellence in service, scholarship, teaching, and integration of faith and learning. Dr. Lockard joined ETBU in 2001, and will serve as the newly-appointed Dean of the School of Communication and Performing Arts in 2023-2024.
One colleague described Dr. Lockard’s holistic approach to teaching, sharing, “As a professor, he cares intensely about his students in every area of their lives: their success in the classroom, their success on the stage, their growth as scholars, and their world and career outlook as Christians.”
“East Texas Baptist University 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 the pride and celebration of these graduates.”