JACKSON, Tenn. – May 19, 2012– Faithfulness is a characteristic that marks the class of 2012, Union University President David S. Dockery told a group of 614 graduates during Union’s 187th annual spring commencement ceremony May 19 on the university’s Great Lawn.
“This class, in a sense, saved Union University,” Dockery said. “If faith involves believing what we can’t see, then back in Feb. 2008 the students graduating this weekend decided that they would come -- or decided they would still come -- to Union in spite of the fact that the school for the most part was in shambles.”
Dockery referenced the 2008 tornado that caused massive destruction on the Union campus and praised the students, most of them high school seniors at the time, for demonstrating both a sense of faith and faithfulness in choosing to attend Union in the midst of uncertainty.
After enrolling at Union, Dockery said the students in this graduating class quickly became leaders on the campus. He cited several of the class’s achievements, including two national debate championships, three Tennessee Intercollegiate State Legislature awards, top recognition of journalism students at the Southeast Journalism Conference and four straight TranSouth Conference all-sports trophies, among other accomplishments.
“I think God has blessed them and blessed us abundantly because of their faith to come here. I think many others would have sought a seemingly safer option at that point,” Dockery said. “This class is now prepared in an extraordinary way to live a life of faith from this point forward.”
This year’s graduating class includes the first 41 graduates from Union’s School of Pharmacy. Sheila Mitchell, the founding dean of the school, said that the occasion, while bittersweet, was a tremendous milestone for the program.
“It has been an amazing journey to get to this point,” Mitchell said. “The members of this first class of students were pioneers. They partnered with faculty and staff to develop and implement a new kind of pharmacy program from the ground up -- an innovative program of excellence taught in an environment embracing the Christian intellectual tradition.”
Ashley Turner, one of the pharmacy graduates and president of the graduating class, said the class had a special bond because of all the “firsts” in which they participated. In addition to being “guinea pigs” of sorts for pharmacy classes and residency programs, they in large part determined the culture for School of Pharmacy students.
“I feel like this school in years to come will continue to stand out, and I'll forever be proud to say that this is where I became a pharmacist,” Turner said.
In addition, to the pharmacy students, the class includes the first graduates from the Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership program at Union University Hendersonville. One student in that cohort, Camilla Jill Yochim, of Gallatin, Tenn., enrolled in the program because her husband Sid was terminally ill. Her moving story propelled her to pursue a degree that would prepare her to enter the job market.
Sid died in November, but Jill continued with her studies, graduating with honors.
As part of the ceremony, Union presented the Elizabeth Tigrett Medal to Katherine Pullen, an intercultural studies and journalism double major from Jacksonville, Fla. The award honors the mother of Isaac B. Tigrett, a former interim president at Union, as well as a benefactor and trustee. The Medal has been awarded since 1912 by vote of the entire Union faculty to an outstanding member of the senior class.
The university also presented two honorary doctorates – a Doctor of Humanities degree to Bill Latimer, the lead donor for the new library, and a Doctor of Letters to Lloyd Hansen.
Carol Swain, professor of political science and law at Vanderbilt University, delivered the commencement address. She told of her journey from poverty in Virginia, where she didn’t complete high school, to earning five college degrees. Swain told graduates that life can take them in unexpected directions, and she encouraged them to live with boldness and courage.
“Be willing to live and die by the gospel of Jesus Christ,” Swain said. “If you place the fear of God above the fear of man, you can rest in the assurance that you will accumulate treasures in heaven that will far surpass anything you gain by living a life of compromise.”
Such courage is needed, Swain said, because the world is dominated by political correctness, and trusted and respected leaders have abandoned the truth of the Bible for the accolades of men. She told graduates that as true followers of Jesus Christ, they would be hated by the world.
“There is no biblical reason for us to believe that God has changed his mind about sin,” she said. “The Bible is not a living document that changes with the moral standards of a given culture. Rather, it is an eternal document that has clear ‘if … then’ statements about the consequences of sin and the rewards of obedience.”