Commencement comes from a Latin word that means inception or beginning. The name refers to the ceremony of initiation for new scholars into the fellowship of university teachers in medieval Europe. The event marked their entrance into full-fledged academic lives. In other words, those who had been taught were expected now to teach others what they had learned. The same expectation exists today at our school. Rockbridge Seminary disciples leaders who disciple the world.
For graduates of Rockbridge, ministry life doesn’t begin after graduation. These graduates are already proven leaders who have served Christ and his Church for years. The average age of our graduates is 46, but people in their 70s have completed a degree at Rockbridge. Most of our students do not come to Rockbridge to put another piece of paper on their wall, or with hope of finding a more lucrative ministry position. They come because they are questers, seekers of truth, explorers of the sacred.
Many years ago, I was told that the pouch formed in the tail of the doctoral hood was used like a collection plate. Students would pay tribute to their professors by dropping money in the pouch. That makes for a great story, but it never happened to me. Students have enriched my life in so many other ways. Over the years, I have received notes expressing thanks for something I said or did. Most of the time I am sure I didn’t make the brilliant statement ascribed to me, but I am glad that I was part of that student’s life. That is reward enough.
Students continue to inspire me with their resilience and persistence in completing their studies. You will hear some of their stories in this year’s commencement address. Students humble me by their commitment to Christ. They astound me by their creativity in ministering to the needs of others. Their questions have kept me learning. I have gained far more than I have given.
The July 2020 Rockbridge commencement is the last one I will preside over. Interestingly, because of coronavirus, this graduation’s commencement address was recorded in my home office: a fitting end to my journey of online seminary education. Over the past 36 years I have participated in approximately 50 commencement ceremonies. I have witnessed thousands of students walking across the stage, fulfilling their goal of becoming more effective ministry leaders. My mind is filled with memories of families celebrating the accomplishments of their graduates, congratulatory words expressed and family members saying, “I am proud of you.” Hugs and kisses. Pats on the back. Moms, dads, spouses, and other family members bursting with pride. Photos taken to record this important slice of history. Children looking uncomfortable in their celebratory clothes but sensing that this event is a big deal. Smiles and tears of joy. It is a poignant reminder of why we do what we do.
I will miss being physically together this year to celebrate the accomplishments of our graduates. I am looking forward to the day when all of us will celebrate what God accomplished in our lives. To Him be the glory. Until then, I will remember the rich encounters I’ve had with fellow learners and smile with joy.
Commencement Premier, July 13, 8:00 p.m. Central
We invite you to join us for our digital graduation commencement which premiers on July 13, 2020 at 8:00 p.m. Central (Chicago). To view the event beginning July 13, go to the following link. Please bookmark the link so that you can quickly and easily return to it. Share the link with family and friends. After the ceremony, you will be able to download the video and share it with others. A commencement booklet is now available on the above link.