JACKSON, Tenn. – May 17, 2008 – Graduates from the Union University class of 2008 have a responsibility to tell future generations how God worked mightily and providentially in the affairs of the university, David S. Dockery said May 17 during Union’s 183rd annual spring commencement ceremony.
Dockery, the university president, was the keynote speaker for the event, in which 400 students received degrees on the university’s Great Lawn. That brings to more than 950 the number of Union graduates from the class of 2008 – the largest class in Union’s history.
“It appeared highly unlikely that we would be here tonight, or that we would find a way to finish the spring semester,” Dockery said in his introductory remarks, referencing the Feb. 5 tornado that decimated the Union campus and caused a two-week interruption in the semester. “By God’s grace, here we are.”
Katie Watson, who majored in Teaching English as a Second Language, received the university’s Elizabeth Tigrett Medal. The award, created by Tigrett’s son to honor his mother, has been awarded since 1912 by vote of the entire Union faculty to an outstanding member of the senior class.
Watson plans to study linguistics at Purdue University.
Other members of the class of 2008 excelled academically and plan to continue their studies at prestigious graduate schools. Renee Emerson received the top creative writing fellowship for the highly competitive Master of Fine Arts program at Boston University. Eighteen-year-old math major Matthew Dawson received a three-and-a-half year fellowship at Louisiana State University. Dawson’s research paper, “Bridging the Group Definition Gap,” was recently published by The Harvard College Mathematics Review.
In his address, Dockery reminded graduates of how God had protected them on the night of Feb. 5.
“We have seen that God not only rescues, but also offers the promise of future stability,” Dockery said. “On Feb. 5, this university was immersed in a threat that came ever so close to shutting us down completely.”
But Dockery referenced a newspaper article proclaiming that “God showed up” on the Union campus that night.
“Tonight, we celebrate the good news that the God who has redeemed us in Jesus Christ, and who has providentially watched over this campus for generation after generation, has demonstrably intervened in our desperate situation.”
Dockery cited several instances from Scripture in which God orchestrated events in ways that seemed unlikely – giving a child to Abraham and Sarah in their old age, using a “stammering octogenarian named Moses” to lead the Hebrews out of Egypt and giving the boy David victory over a Philistine giant.
The same God acted Feb. 5 on Union’s campus in “another providential moment in history,” Dockery said.
“We have seen God turning to us, responding to the hundreds and hundreds of cries over the past hundred days, cries that have been poured out across this campus – and in the midst of these cries, we discovered once again the power of hope,” he said.
The Union president said God had answered the prayers of members of the Union community that began on the morning of Feb. 6. The repairs to White Hall are complete, and work on Jennings Hall, Hammons Hall and other buildings is progressing, Dockery noted.
He also pointed to the 14 new student housing buildings under construction as evidence that God was bringing “renewal out of the rubble across this campus,” and he announced that Union has raised more than $12 million for its Disaster Relief Fund – nearly 70 percent of the estimated $18 million that is needed.
“But perhaps the greatest marker of God’s hand upon us is that we are here tonight – completing the semester and granting your degrees,” Dockery said.
“So now we must tell the generation following, because people so quickly forget,” he continued. “Historians tell us that what is believed and proclaimed by one generation is often merely assumed by the next generation, and sadly, is often rejected by the next. We must not let that happen.
“For in a first-hand way, we have experienced God’s providential presence, his power, his loving faithfulness and his provision, and we are grateful beyond description,” Dockery added. “We have been given new opportunities to study, to learn, to serve, and now we have the privilege to tell the generations following of the thanksgiving and gratitude that fills our hearts tonight.”