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263 receive degrees in Union’s largest December graduation

Deborah Wilds of the College Success Foundation was the speaker for commencement services Dec. 15 at West Jackson Baptist Church. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)
Deborah Wilds of the College Success Foundation was the speaker for commencement services Dec. 15 at West Jackson Baptist Church. (Photo by Morris Abernathy)

JACKSON, Tenn.Dec. 17, 2007 – A complex and diverse world needs the commitment and contributions that alumni of Christian colleges like Union University can offer, Deborah Wilds told Union graduates Dec. 15.

“In his sovereignty, God has just the proper place for each of us,” Wilds said. “And it is through prayer and seeking His face through Jesus Christ that gives us the proper discernment to recognize that place.

“As Christian college graduates, you have been uniquely equipped to integrate biblical truth, intellectual capital and professional skills to live in a complex and increasingly diverse world.”

Wilds is president and chief operating officer of the College Success Foundation, an organization that provides scholarships and mentoring to low-income, high-potential students. She was the keynote speaker for the fall commencement services of the 183rd graduation class from Union University, where 263 students received their degrees at West Jackson Baptist Church.

It was Union’s largest December graduation ever, and included the first group of graduates from Union’s Master of Christian Studies program – Richard Vaughan Bragg, Randall Anthony Kellough, Robert C. Maxwell and Stephanie Brown Morris.

As part of the ceremony, Union President David S. Dockery presented the Robert E. Craig Service Award to Thad and Alicia Smotherman, from Arlington, Texas.

The award is named after Union’s 13th president, who led the university for more than two decades and was responsible for reestablishing Union with the churches of the Tennessee Baptist Convention. Craig was also responsible for relocating the university campus to north Jackson.

The Smothermans serve on Union’s Board of Regents, and for the past 10 years have hosted and supported Union’s alumni work in Texas. Alicia, a 1963 Union graduate, is a physician. Thad is an investor who is a leader in several business and health care-related operations.

“Thad and Alicia Smotherman are terrific people who have offered incredible support for the work of Union University over the past decade,” Dockery said.

“Their efforts to enhance our alumni work with Union alums in Texas, their support for prospective students in that area and their service on the Union Board of Regents have all been beneficial for the university.

“We particularly want to thank them for their wise counsel and encouragement in the startup of the nurse anesthesia program at Union. They are most worthy recipients of this year’s Craig Service Award.”

Union also presented an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree to Stephen C. Reynolds, president and CEO of Baptist Memorial Health Care of Memphis. In September, BMHC made a $1 million donation to the health care programs at Union.

“Stephen Reynolds has given outstanding leadership to the work of Baptist Memorial Hospital in Memphis for many years,” Dockery said. “We are thrilled to recognize his leadership in the world of health care, to acknowledge his partnership in the work of Tennessee Baptists and to thank him for his support of our new pharmacy program.”

In her address, Wilds told graduates that there are many challenges awaiting them. Society has no shortage of needs, she said, but there is a shortage of people with the long-term commitment to address some of society’s problems – such as racial injustice.

Wilds said that even after more than 50 years since the Brown v. Board of Education decision by the U.S. Supreme Court, educational and economic opportunities are still largely contingent upon race and ethnicity.

“Our God is a God of equity. Our God is a God of justice,” Wilds said. “As Christians, we should be at the forefront of efforts to bring about racial justice, healing and reconciliation in our nation.”

To do that, Wilds encouraged graduates to follow the example of Jesus’ life of service to others.

“Our Lord’s message was utterly simple, but completely profound,” she said.

Media contact: Tim Ellsworth, news@uu.edu, 731-661-5215

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