Oklahoma Baptist University

Grads Challenged To Build Communities

Challenged to commit themselves to “building communities,” 258 graduates received degrees during OBU's spring Commencement Saturday morning.


View Scenes From Commencement


Dr. Bill Hagen, OBU professor of English, delivered the Commencement address before an overflow audience of more than 1,800 in OBU’s Raley Chapel. The longtime educator urged the graduates to be engaged in their communities.

“If we live only to succeed, only to fulfill ourselves, only consume, we don’t really live. We can walk around plugged into our iPods or sit in front of screens in a kind of electronic cocoon, but it’s not a cocoon that leads to any metamorphosis or emergence for us,” said Hagen.

Citing the tendency to live to achieve a project and achieve a grade, Hagen encouraged the students to realize there was not a final point of completion.

“As individuals, you studied hard, completed papers and projects … and were given grades,” he said. “But those of us who taught you have to hope we prepared you for exactly the opposite kind of experience. Let’s face it, in many cases your jobs, your work with others will not be tied up neatly and given a grade. In life, the things that count never really conclude; they change as they continue.

“Hopefully, we learn that best satisfactions come as the result of working with others we like rather than winning or being recognized for personal achievement,” he said. “Individuals need community. Facebook is nice, but face-to-face is better.”

He contrasted generational concerns from the 1950s to concerns of today, noting his colleagues feared becoming “organization men” and “conformists,” as compared to society’s current trend toward individuality.

“We can become so focused on individualism and the idea of freedom that we refuse to be tied down to any community,” said Hagen.

He cited a recent paper he completed, comparing Homer’s writings with the Psalms. Focusing on the Odyssey and Psalm 23, he said he found a link in hospitality, as both writings stressed “the joy of being together.”

“The Lord is a model of hosting,” said Hagen. “Notice the emphasis on community in the Bible.”

He focused on the account of Pentecost recorded in the second chapter of the Book of Acts, as Jesus’ l1 disciples communicated with people who spoke other languages, “reversing the outcome of the Tower of Babel story.”

“You, too, Class of 2007, are of many disciplines, headed in many different directions,” he said. “We expect you to excel in your disciplines, in your individual lives, just as the disciples excelled in the different languages they spoke on that glorious day. But notice that they weren’t celebrating themselves. They were connecting to people, forming a community based on one message.”

During the graduation program, OBU President Mark Brister presented the university’s top three annual awards.

Dr. John McWilliams, assistant professor of natural sciences, received OBU’s Distinguished Teaching Award, presented in recognition of “classroom excellence.” McWilliams joined the OBU faculty in 2000. He completed his bachelor’s, master’s and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Arkansas.

Dr. Justin Hardin, Strickland assistant professor of religion, received OBU’s Promising Teacher Award, presented to a faculty member who has taught at the university for less than five years and “shows great promise as a teacher.” Hardin joined the OBU faculty in 2005. He earned a bachelor’s degree from Ouachita Baptist University, a master’s degree from Beeson Divinity School, and master of philosophy and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Cambridge.

Robert Cash, director of OBU’s physical plant, received the university’s Meritorious Service Award. Cash joined the OBU staff in 1990. He served in a variety of roles with the physical plant before being named director in 2005.

Two retiring faculty members, Dr. Doug Watson and Dr. Ron Duncan, were honored during the service. Watson, professor of English, joined the OBU faculty in 1980. Duncan, professor of anthropology, joined the faculty in 1990.

The program also included recognition of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which founded the university in 1910.

“During the time that you have been at OBU, Oklahoma Baptists have invested more than $10 million in your education,” President Brister told the graduates.

Dr. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the BGCO, encouraged the graduates to remember the investment others made in their education.

“Don’t forget that you received more than an education,” said Jordan. “You had the opportunity to have your lives transformed not just by education but by inspiration.”

The graduating class included 19 seniors who earned the academic predicate “summa cum laude” for maintaining at least a 3.95 grade point average on all work completed for their bachelor’s degrees. Those honored received academic hoods during the ceremony. Honorees include Stephanie Jane Aitken, Tulsa; Lacey Rae Anderberg, Clarendon, Texas; Sarah Elisabeth Byland, Shawnee; Rebecca Grace Cade, Colmar Manor, Md.; Mary Elizabeth Cheek, Cypress, Texas; Lindsay Malone Cochran, Oklahoma City; Loren Elizabeth Eaton, Rowlett, Texas; Melanie Jean Ferguson, Shawnee; Lindsay Marie Fetters, Shawnee; Diana Lynn Graf, Marlow; Sarah Lemay Hale, Grapevine, Texas; Micah Matthew Jones, Alvarado, Texas; Rebecca Joy Kunz, Daytona Beach, Fla.; Carrie A. McCurdy, Sanger, Texas; Brent Michael Purkaple, Ponca City; Allie Denise Ray, Eufaula; Tara Marie Shipley, Naples, Fla.; Joshua Richard Tiller, Mesquite, Texas; and Lydia Allison Wood, Chandler, Ariz.

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