A light but steady rain at the start of Regent University’s 36th annual commencement ceremony on May 7 ultimately gave way to sunshine and a wonderful celebration of academic accomplishment.
In all, 1,707 graduates – the largest class ever – are receiving their associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees this spring. While several hundred online graduates from around the world were unable to attend this year’s graduation, more than 1,200 soon-to-be alums joined a huge crowd of family, friends and distinguished guests at Regent’s Library Plaza.
Among those distinguished guests was commencement speaker and former Delta Force commander LTG William G. “Jerry” Boykin. A founding member of the U.S. Army’s elite team of warriors, Boykin served his country for 36 years. He also commanded the Army’s Green Berets, as well as its Special Warfare Center and School. After working for the CIA, participating in clandestine operations around the world, Boykin spent the final four years of his career as the Deputy Under Secretary of Defense for Intelligence.
“You’re going to have to stand up for these things if you believe in them. Know what you believe and be ready to defend it.”
— LTG William G. “Jerry” Boykin
In his speech to Regent’s newest alumni, the ordained minister, husband, father and grandfather issued a five-fold challenge: Know what you believe; know your history; stay current; get involved; and be proud to be an American.
He told thousands watching in person and online, “If you look at America today, what you’ll discover is — especially within the Christian Church — we’re doing exactly what Romans 12:2 warns us not to do, ‘Be not conformed to this world. But be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind.’”
Boykin continued by telling the graduates, “Everything you think you believe in is going to be challenged when you leave this place.” Whether it’s their faith, the Constitution, the freedom of speech or religion, he warned, “You’re going to have to stand up for these things if you believe in them. Know what you believe and be ready to defend it.”
The retired general’s challenge also encouraged attendees to know and study history, especially those things that made America great: “If we lose our identity because we don’t know our history, we can be led in any direction. Know your history. It will make you proud to be an American.”
Boykin stressed that a key to knowing history is understanding the present. “Billy Graham said, ‘You need to have a Bible in one hand and a newspaper in the other.’ Stay current. You need to know what’s going on in your world,” he insisted. “If we don’t have a biblical worldview, as we look at events that are occurring and we can’t see certain prophetic things that are occurring, then we’re just going to miss so much of what God is trying to show us and tell us.”
In closing, Boykin urged the class of 2016 to “get involved.” He noted that 38 million Americans didn’t vote in the 2012 presidential election, suggesting they may not have liked either party’s nominee.
“Who you vote for is your own decision, and I’m not here to advocate for any candidate,” Boykin said. “The only perfect candidate there ever was went to a place called Golgotha, the ‘Hill of the Skull,’ and died. … Get out and vote, and get involved.”
He called on graduates to teach Sunday School, coach children’s athletic teams, engage elected officials and hold them accountable, adding, “Don’t ever think that you don’t make a difference.”
“God almighty will be with you. … Wherever you go, though you go through the fire, He will be with you.”
— Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson
The highly decorated combat veteran also admitted being worried about the future and about our republic. But shortly after his commencement address, Boykin told Impact that Regent’s mission of equipping Christian leaders to change the world is “invaluable” to our nation’s continued greatness: “Regent is still a bastion of solid American values, the values that this country was founded on, and that’s why I was delighted to be here. And it was a privilege to talk to the people who will be the leaders in sectors of our society about the imperative to love this country and to be proud to be an American.”
When Regent’s founder, chancellor and CEO, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, took the podium, he warned graduates about the opposition they’ll face in a culture growing increasingly hostile to religious faith. But he also said, “At the same time, you’re going into an accepting culture, because around the world people are hungry to know the truth of God. By the tens of millions, people are coming to the Lord. … There is hunger to know God. There’s hunger to know the truth. There’s hunger to know what you’ve been taught here in this school.”
He pushed the class of 2016 from the Regent “nest” with this charge, “Be strong. Be very courageous because the Author of all, the Creator of the heavens and the earth is with you. God almighty will be with you. He’ll be with you in the dark days; He’ll be with you in the sunny days. He’ll be with you in joy; He’ll be with you in pain. Wherever you go, though you go through the fire, He will be with you.”
Graduates and guests also heard from 2016 Alumnus of the Year Kristen Waggoner. The 1997 Regent Law graduate is senior vice president of legal services and senior counsel at the Alliance Defending Freedom, a nonprofit organization specializing in religious-liberties litigation. Waggoner said she was “humbled” to receive the award on the 30th anniversary of the university’s School of Law, telling graduates, “God has intentionally placed in you very specific talents, skills and passions, and the university has helped you to hone those talents and skills to further your vocation.”
She also explained that His gifts are not given to serve our own desires: “Ephesians 2:10 tells us that He created, in advance, good works — specific works — for you to do. In light of this truth, I urge you to fully embrace that calling with courage to stand immovable and abound in the work of the Lord” (1 Cor. 15:58).
Finally, two Army ROTC graduates, Jonah Bryant and Matthew Fitch, took their oath of commissioning as second lieutenants, just before the blasts of confetti cannons signaled the official end of commencement. Then Robertson declared to graduates, “And now, you may flip your tassels!”