A university graduation offers a glimpse into the future of a nation. Saturday I had the privilege to be an honored guest at the commencement ceremonies of East Texas Baptist University in Marshall, Texas. It had been twenty-four years since I had been on the campus, the last time being when my brother Stephen graduated in 1984. The campus had changed dramatically, and the graduates look like children to me through my bi-focal glasses, but the spirit of the campus was still rooted in the Christ-centered values of Christian higher education.
The graduation ceremony was filled with the pomp and circumstance you would expect at such a significant rite of passage. The large crowd was filled with proud parents, grateful grandparents, excited brothers and sisters, and a pleased faculty. Since I really did not know any of the graduates personally I could take in the moment with an open heart and mind. Of course the graduation had its class clown moments as one young beaming graduate strutted across the stage in large light blue clown shoes! What a proud moment for mom and dad! I suspect one day he will be a bank president, or a member of the board of trustees. There were a number of touching moments like when one young man graduated with honors instead of walking the stage he rolled to President Riley seated in his motorized wheel chair, or when a young man graduated and it was clear from his family’s celebration that he was the first college graduate from his long family history—one cycle ended and a new exiting chapter has begun.
The commencement speaker was President Bob Riley who will be retiring in June after seventeen faithful years of service. Without doubt one of the most difficult jobs in the Kingdom is the heavy responsibility of being a college president. Dr. Riley has helped make our world a much better place by pouring his life and energy into the lives of the next generation. Only God knows how many long hours he has put in, how many times he has gone hat in hand asking for financial support, how many times he has struggled to keep the life and mission of ETBU alive and well. All Texas Baptists owe him a debt of gratitude for all he has done to extend the work of the Kingdom through ETBU.
Dr. Paul Sorrels, the university provost, gave me a quick tour of the campus. As we walked the hallways, and drove from one end of the campus to another, I could hear in his voice his love for the students, the faculty, and the mission of the school. We are so rich as Texas Baptists to have an able leader like Dr. Sorrels at the helm of the education endeavors of our ETBU.
As I drove away from the campus, I was so thankful that as a Texas Baptist I have had a small part in the life and mission of this great school. I was also reminded that our investment in Christian higher education has little to do with brick and mortar, but rather around changed lives. We invest in students. Anyone who invests in the next generation is like the man who plants a tree that he will never sit under—but his grandchildren will!