JACKSON, Tenn. – Aug. 3, 2008 – Lonnie Wilkey, editor of the Baptist and Reflector, and Will Hall, executive editor of Baptist Press, became the first two fellows inducted to Union University’s Center for Media, Faith and Culture during Union’s summer commencement ceremony Aug. 2.
As part of the ceremony in Union’s Fred DeLay Gymnasium, 290 students received degrees, bringing to more than 950 the number of Union graduates from the class of 2008 – the largest class in Union’s history. The service also featured the first graduating class from Union’s nurse anesthetist program
Union President David S. Dockery honored Wilkey and Hall for their work in reporting on the Feb. 5 tornado that caused $40 million in damage to the Union campus. At a time when Union was without power and without a Web site to communicate emergency information, “Two major people and their staffs came to our help and our aid,” Dockery said. “They went above and beyond the call of duty.”
In the aftermath of the tornado, Baptist Press devoted a special page of its site to Union-related stories, and helped provide up-to-the-minute information to Southern Baptist readers.
Two days after the tornado, Wilkey and other leaders from the Tennessee Baptist Convention were on the campus looking for ways to help.
Wilkey also ran several stories about Union – both in the Baptist and Reflector newspaper and on the Tennessee Baptist Convention Web site.
Dockery presented Wilkey and Hall with plaques, honoring them for their service to Union.
“We are deeply, deeply grateful,” Dockery said. “They are special friends.”
The graduation service brought to a close “an academic year like no other” in Union’s history, Dockery said. In the hours following the tornado, the status of the spring semester was far from certain. Nearly 70 percent of Union’s student housing was in ruins, and other academic buildings – specifically Jennings Hall – were badly damaged.
But Union’s academic leaders juggled classroom assignments, shuffled faculty offices, shifted class schedules and found a way for the semester to be saved. Only two weeks after the tornado, classes resumed on campus.
“The Lord has sustained us, and we celebrate God’s sustaining grace to us today,” Dockery said.
Dockery announced that donations to Union’s disaster relief fund were at $14.5 million, with more than 6,500 donors contributing to the cause. That leaves Union’s about $3.5 million short of its goal of $18 million.
The $18 million shortfall was caused by a number of factors, such as deductibles, lost revenue from student housing and other programs and the increased cost of rebuilding campus housing to greater standards.
In his commencement address, Dockery exhorted graduates to recognize the sustaining power of hope, specifically the hope that comes through salvation in Jesus Christ.
Hope allows Christians to recognize that God has a divine plan behind the challenges and sufferings that inevitably come, and provides strength to make it through such difficulties.
“All of us, somewhere along the way, will experience a Feb. 5 in our lives,” Dockery said. “Hope focuses our vision on the future, even while we struggle in the present.”