Virginia’s Top-Elected Officials Participate in 42nd Commencement
Weekend as Graduation Celebrations Return to Campus
Regent University’s 2022 Commencement Weekend was a celebration unlike any other. The Virginia Beach campus came alive on a beautiful spring day to host the first in-person commencement since 2019.
Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, Regent’s founder, chancellor, and CEO was excited to once again welcome graduates, alumni, families, friends, faculty, staff, and distinguished guests to the Library Plaza on Saturday, May 7. The result was a crowd of more than 10,000 in attendance for this sacred event.
The crowd had extra reasons to celebrate. Regent’s Class of 2020 and Class of 2021 were invited to participate in the celebration, offering these deserving graduates the traditional on-campus commencement experience they missed.
“It was a thrill. We were concerned about the weather, but it was absolutely perfect. Everything was perfect,” Robertson told Impact. “Being back on campus is so special for the students. The virtual ceremonies were fine, but they can’t compare with being here in person.”
Commissioned to Change the World
Regent’s 42nd Commencement Weekend officially kicked off two days earlier with commissioning services, where faculty and administrators prayed over the graduates, recognized their accomplishments, and handed out diplomas.
Virginia Attorney General Jason Miyares served as the keynote speaker for the School of Law Commissioning. He is the first Cuban American elected to the state’s General Assembly, the first Hispanic elected statewide in Virginia, and the first son of an immigrant to serve as Attorney General.
Miyares, whose mother immigrated to the States in 1965, shared his unique perspective on America. “Why did my mother flee Cuba and come here?” he asked. “It’s because she was desperate to live in a society that recognized that her rights come from God and not some government official. We have to recognize that we are a unique nation.”
In closing, Miyares told the Regent Law graduates, “We are indeed, as Abraham Lincoln noted, the last best hope on earth. Thank you, Class of 2022, for being part of that last best hope.”
At the School of Business & Leadership (SBL) Commissioning, distinguished alumna and Virginia Lt. Gov. Winsome Earle-Sears delivered the keynote address. She was also inducted into SBL’s Alumni Hall of Distinction.
Additionally, Earle-Sears attended the Robertson School of Government (RSG) Commissioning to give the invocation. Following the ceremony, she was presented with RSG’s Distinguished Statesman Award. The award honors individuals who have sacrificially enhanced our country through their extraordinary contribution to public service.
The on-campus services format for commissioning and commencement was the first for RSG Dean Michele Bachmann. The former congresswoman joined Regent University mid-pandemic in January 2021. She spoke with Impact about last year’s virtual format and how it compared to this year’s in-person celebration weekend.
“The difference was experiencing the power and the presence of the Holy Spirit during the ceremony. There was no question that the Lord showed up,” Bachmann said. “In that gathering, it was truly a sacred moment because graduation is a significant milestone in a student’s life, when they come to that culmination point of reaching the goal that they worked so hard to achieve.”
“Where Does Your Compass Point?”
With the sun shining for the first time in days, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin stepped to the podium to deliver his address as Regent’s 2022 Commencement speaker. The Commonwealth’s 74th governor grew up in Richmond and Virginia Beach. He attended Rice University on a basketball scholarship and earned a degree in engineering. Youngkin received his MBA at Harvard Business School and worked for 25 years at The Carlyle Group, rising to the CEO position.
The Governor began his speech by offering his “deepest sympathy and condolences” on the recent passing of a beloved member of the Regent University family, Mrs. Adelia “Dede” Robertson.
“We celebrate as well because we know she’s with the Lord,” Youngkin added, as he looked at Dr. Robertson. “I also offer my profound appreciation for the example the two of you set for all these many years. Thank you for your tireless service to this community, to scholarship, and the Kingdom of Christ.”
He continued, “I want to talk about the world that awaits you, a world that needs you because you are graduating from Regent University, and you will change the world. … There are always seasons of tribulation that go with seasons of triumph. Just remember, there are no diamonds made without pressure. … What’s most important in those moments is that we remember two very important tools. First, mentors who can guide us and advise us, and second, a compass. A compass that points us in the direction of sacred truth. A compass that points us in the direction of core values that define us.”
“Where does your compass point?” the Governor asked. “Don’t be confused by what constitutes a rich life. It is all about finding significance and living according to your purpose. … Happiness is fleeting and finding purpose is what is truly satisfying. Seek your purpose, and you will find happiness. Seek happiness, and you will find neither. Where does your compass point?”
The Power of Redemption
After the commencement address, Dr. William L. Hathaway, Regent University’s executive vice president for Academic Affairs, introduced R. Michael Thornton to give the Graduate Reflections. The Doctor of Strategic Leadership graduate from SBL delivered a powerful, charismatic speech that brought the crowd to their feet and in tears.
Thornton shared how the Lord broke through his personal darkness to redeem and restore him—a once homeless, suicidal, former drug addict who now serves God as a pastor and college director. His passion and enthusiasm for Christ were infectious as he told an energized commencement crowd:
“Today is a day of redemption. I have learned that redemption is God’s version of revenge. It’s when God makes the enemy pay you back for everything that was lost and stolen from you in previous seasons of your life. … To my fellow graduates. I want you to know that when we turn those tassels, we are turning the page on a new season—a new chapter in a new beginning. Today is a day of redemption.”
It’s All About Obedience
After the Graduate Reflections, Dr. Doris Gomez, dean of the School of Business & Leadership, presented the 2022 Alumnus of the Year Award to Winsome Earle-Sears (SBL ’03), the first female Lieutenant Governor for the Commonwealth of Virginia and the first black female elected to statewide office. (Read more about our Alumnus of the Year Award recipient here.)
Earle-Sears began her remarks by turning to the university’s founder, chancellor and CEO to ask him, “Dr. Robertson, do you see what you did because you obeyed? Could you have imagined all of this?”
Virginia’s Lieutenant Governor reminisced about her time on campus in the early 2000s and encouraged graduates to follow God, no matter what: “This is what happens when you obey. Had he not obeyed, [Regent University] would not be here. That’s all the Lord wants to know: ‘Did you obey me? … That’s all that matters.”
For Such a Time as This
Robertson, who turned 92 in March, returned to the microphone to express how thankful he is, along with the board of trustees, for the graduate’s willingness to trust Regent with their academic careers: “Whether it’s two years, three years, four years that you’ve been here and allowed us the privilege of training you and helping you, all of us are deeply grateful to the Lord for the privilege that you have extended to us to help you in your journey.”
The chancellor then shared the Old Testament story of Queen Esther, who saved the Jews from annihilation. An adopted cousin, Mordecai, begged her to intervene and ask the king to spare their people: “For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14).
Robertson drew parallels from that ancient story to today’s graduates. “We live in a perilous world,” he warned. “The world is crying for an answer, and you have the answer. The answer is the power of God and the truth of the Holy Bible. That is what will be necessary to solve the world’s problems.”
In closing, Robertson delivered his charge to the Class of 2022. “You’ve come into the kingdom for such a time as this,” he insisted. “I assure you that, in today’s world, there is a crisis of massive proportions. You will go forth into this world, and you are going to change it. … You are going to be salt and light in a world that’s desperately seeking answers.”
With his challenge issued, Robertson called on the deans of each school to present their candidates for graduation. After conferring more than 2,500 degrees, he said: “To the Class of 2022, the Class of 2021, and the Class of 2020, I want you to know we are proud of you. We praise God for you. You are and always will be our Regent family. Now, as Christian leaders, I charge you: Go, change the world! You may now flip your tassels!”
With those words, air cannons showered the crowd of thousands with a spectacular display of blue, green and silver confetti. When the fanfare settled, Dr. Joseph Umidi, executive vice president for Student Life, offered the benediction. He blessed Regent’s new alumni with Scripture from Isaiah 60:1 and Jude 1:24-25:
“‘Arise, shine, for your light has come, and the glory of the Lord is risen upon you. Now to Him who is able to keep you from stumbling, and to present you faultless before the presence of His glory with exceeding joy, to God our Savior, who alone is wise, be glory and majesty, dominion and power, both now and forever. Amen.’”
A Celebration Reclaimed
The return to campus was especially significant to 2020 and 2021 graduates who missed out on a traditional Regent commencement due to pandemic restrictions. Nearly 400 alumni from those two classes participated in this year’s ceremony.
One returning student from 2021 was Kristen Hilferty, who received her Master of Education in Christian School Leadership. She told Impact, “I decided to walk a year after graduating because I wanted a sense of closure, to commemorate that I had spent two years investing in a master’s degree to prepare for what God has for my future. It was wonderful to be in the midst of graduates, professors, families, leaders … the church, those who are passionate about bringing God’s Kingdom into their area of influence.”
Commencement 2022 gave a Regent Legacy Family the opportunity to celebrate two generations of God’s faithfulness. Dr. Deborah Reynolds Harper is a two-time graduate of the university (SCA ’92 & SBL ’17). Her daughter Gillian is a 2020 College of Arts & Sciences (CAS) graduate who returned to campus to participate in commissioning and commencement.
Dr. Harper said her Regent education has empowered her to fulfill the divine calling that God has placed on her life: “It is a great joy to have our children also receive the same benefits for success, life and career that I have been so blessed to receive from the education, community, and opportunities at Regent University.”
Both alumnae are grateful for the opportunity to return to campus and celebrate their personal and academic accomplishments with the Class of 2022.
“When I heard they were inviting the 2020 and 2021 graduates back to walk,” Gillian recalled, “I felt it was a redemption of something so special that was taken from us by the circumstances at the time. We worked so hard to finish well, and I’m excited that now we finally get to celebrate alongside our classmates!”
When asked by Impact to share her thoughts on commencement returning to an in-person format, Dr. Gomez spoke about the historical significance of this year’s ceremony:
“It’s a celebration that has never been taken away across an entire nation since World War II. And so, to be able to celebrate our graduates after two long years of unprecedented lockdowns and challenges was not only a great honor but also a tremendous joy.”