Regent University’s 37th annual commencement ceremony drew a crowd of approximately 9,000 graduates, families, friends and distinguished guests to the Library Plaza on Saturday, May 6. The beautiful weather served as a perfect backdrop for the more than 1,100 men and women who were on campus to receive their diplomas. In all, 1,921 graduates – the most in Regent history – earned associate, bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral degrees as members of the Class of 2017.
The university’s founder, chancellor and CEO, Dr. M.G. “Pat” Robertson, began the ceremony by proclaiming, to loud applause, words from Psalm 118:24, “This is the day the Lord hath made. We are glad and rejoice in it!” Robertson also spoke about his excitement that Regent’s current enrollment has reached 10,000 students, adding: “We are now the fastest growing university in the entire United States of America. Since 2014, we have increased our academic programs by 75 percent, and … we now offer 128 different areas of study.”
Robertson also shared an impressive list of alumni accomplishments before officially opening commencement in prayer and introducing one of the ceremony’s distinguished guests, Mr. Phillip Walker, chairman of the university’s board of trustees. In his congratulatory comments to graduates, Walker challenged them to be leaders in their communities, their states and our nation:
“You’re about to join many other Regent alums who are already having a major impact in the areas of education, communication, law, government, counseling, ministry and business.” He continued, “I expect many of you will become the leading executives, educators or public servants, improving the lives of our citizens and having the opportunity to take the gospel to the marketplace.”
Robertson then introduced the commencement speaker, Dr. Corné Bekker, calling him a brilliant scholar and one of the most gifted orators in the Christian faith around the world. Under Bekker’s leadership as dean, Regent’s School of Divinity now ranks as one of the nation’s top 15 largest seminaries and, Robertson added, is expected to become the largest divinity school in the world soon.
Born in South Africa, Bekker joined Regent in 2005 as an associate professor. He has taught in the doctoral programs of the School of Business & Leadership. He also serves as chair of the Department of Biblical Studies and Christian Ministry in Regent’s College of Arts & Sciences. When asked by Impact how he has been able to fulfill so many roles so well at the university, Bekker replied, “I’ve always taken the position that the primary descriptor of our call is that of servant. I think one has to be really flexible and pliable and open to whatever God might want us to do.”
The ordained minister, husband and father began his address by reading aloud the theme verse for Commencement 2017, “Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith.” (Hebrews 12:1-2, ESV).
But Bekker warned the assembled graduates, “We live in a world that is changing fast – in front of our eyes. The race that is set before us is quite different than what it was a number of years ago. … We literally have contact with the whole world through social media, such as Facebook and Snapchat.”
Pointing to the dangers of the internet, he added, “Very often we find that students and others in this world are so overwhelmed with data that they have retreated into situational ethics and subjective truth claims. … Most of us are engaging online in order to make ourselves great. How do we, indeed, run the race with endurance?”
The School of Divinity dean answered that important question by sharing seven life lessons from Apostle Paul:
- Learn to say “yes” to the Lord.
- Trust in His Word.
- Make Christ your message.
- Have a large vision.
- Value humility.
- Do not be afraid.
- Give until the end. It’s not how you start, but how you finish that matters most.
In closing, Bekker urged the Class of 2017 to “be so taken by the message of the gospel that we will go forth and make Christ great.” Then he added, “Graduates, you have been entrusted with a noble charge, a high call and an eternal message. Do not be afraid. Never shrink back. Never apologize for the hope that’s within you. Trust in God. Proclaim His Word. Perform His gospel. Your future’s bright because He’s already there. Walk in humility. Be empowered by His Spirit. And in doing so, you will run with endurance this race that is set before you. Go forth, and change this world for Him.”
When Robertson returned to the lectern to deliver his charge to the graduates, he challenged them to, “attach yourselves to Jesus, and let His words attach themselves to you.” “If you dwell in Him and His words dwell in you, then nothing will be impossible for you. You’re going out into a difficult world. … But with that world, I want you to know that the Lord Jesus is in control of it. This is still my Father’s world, and Jesus still is Lord of all.”
He added that if Regent’s newest alumni want to see their prayers answered, they need to live in Christ and attach themselves to Him so that they live daily the Word of God. “If you do that, there’s nothing impossible,” Robertson explained. “The motto of this university is very simple: Christian Leadership to Change the World. That’s a big task, isn’t it? But I believe we’re going to do it.”
Immediately following Robertson’s charge, Benjamin Crisp, the Outstanding Master of Divinity Graduate in the School of Divinity, delivered the “Student Reflection and Response.” In a speech that was very warmly received by the audience, he spoke from the heart on behalf of the entire Class of 2017.
“Most of all, together, with my graduating classmates, we thank God for His unending grace and His empowering Spirit that has sustained and guided us along our academic journey,” Crisp said. “Regent is much more than a university, it is an incubator where our Spirit-inspired dreams and visions of the future have developed and grown. While we celebrate this pivotal moment with great joy, we also feel the weighty responsibility to properly wield the knowledge and skills that we have acquired, as we have been commissioned to become agents of dynamic, Christ-centered change in the earth.”
In closing, he added, “We have invested our time, our money and our best effort in this academic journey. We have prepared and prayed. We have laughed and cried. We have studied the material and have made relational connections. Now, … we must run. We must run in every nation. We must run with no restraint. We must run, knowing that our families and friends are behind us. We must run, knowing that the wind of God is at our back. But most importantly, we must run for the glory of God.”
After the presentation of the graduates and the conferring of degrees to the more than 1,100 graduates on hand, Whitney Barner and Esteban Garcia Lopez, both in the Army ROTC, took their oath of commissioning as second lieutenants. Then Robertson proclaimed, “You may flip your tassels!” as cannon blasts of confetti and streamers loudly and colorfully signaled the end of commencement.
For the benediction, Regent’s patriarch prayed Jude 1:24-25 over the graduates, “And now unto Him who is able to keep you from falling, and to present you flawless before His presence with exceeding glory, to the only wise God our Savior, be glory and honor, dominion and power, both now and forevermore. In Jesus’ name, amen and amen. Praise the Lord!”