After witnessing a visual demonstration of how their lives have been shaped while in college, 247 Oklahoma Baptist University graduates received their diplomas during the university's Spring Commencement Saturday morning in OBU's Raley Chapel.
With more than 1,800 in attendance, the formal graduation ceremonies became a temporary woodworking shop. Dr. John McWilliams created a wooden mallet while delivering a unique Commencement address. He used the tool to drive home the point that God has used the graduates' college experiences to craft them into tools themselves.
McWilliams, assistant professor of natural sciences, used a portable worktable and a collection of hand tools as he transformed a 2x4 piece of wood into the mallet, without disclosing the intended creation.
"God has the blueprint for what he wants your life to look like," he said. "We can't read God's mind. We trust him to be sovereign and after that we just trust him to know what he is doing in our lives."
Weaving in puns related to woodworking, he sanded the handle of the mallet while explaining its symbolism.
"The curriculum here at OBU makes you a more well-rounded, smooth character, where you can get that job someday, and function the rest of your lives with your spouse and children and people that you love," he said. "Even after that, you have situations and experiences all through your lives that are geared for God to allow things to shape you into something."
McWilliams encouraged the graduates to remember that the God who created the universe also has a plan for their individual lives.
"If you think you're at OBU just as random chance ... you need to re-enroll and go back through another four or five or six years," he quipped. "God had a purpose for each and every one of you, and to think that he's finished with you is kind of absurd, too."
Pounding the workbench with his freshly finished mallet, McWilliams concluded his 13-minute address with a final analogy: "My prayer for you, as OBU graduates, is that God actually can make a tool of you that he can use for his purposes for the rest of eternity."
While presenting the graduating class, Tyler Douse, president of the senior class, also encouraged the graduates to implement their education.
"Over the past four years our class has been defined by our potential," said the political science major from Pryor. "Today, as we graduate, that definition must change. We must translate our potential into action to make a positive difference in the world."
OBU's top three awards for faculty and staff were presented during the ceremonies by John W. Parrish, the university's interim president.
Dr. Brad Jett, Hurley associate professor of biology, received the Distinguished Teaching Award, presented in recognition of "classroom excellence." Jett joined the OBU faculty in 1998. He completed his bachelor's degree at OBU, and his master's and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Oklahoma College of Medicine.
Karen Cotter, assistant professor of nursing, received the 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." Cotter, a 1994 OBU graduate, joined the faculty in 2003. She earned a master's degree from the University of Oklahoma and is working toward a Ph.D. degree in nursing education from the University of Northern Colorado.
Dr. Glenn Sanders, professor of history, received the university's Meritorious Service Award. Sanders, who joined the faculty in 1988, has chaired the university's North Central Association of Colleges and Schools accreditation self-study team for the past two years. He earned bachelor's and master's degrees from Baylor University, and a Ph.D. degree from Brown University.
Retiring faculty members Rhetta Hudson and Norma Partridge, who both joined the full-time faculty in 1971, were honored during the service. Hudson and Partridge each hold the rank of associate professor of music.
In his charge to the graduates, Parrish encouraged them to celebrate the day.
"Make today a very special family day. Express your appreciation to and love for those family members who helped you reach this hour," said Parrish. "Please understand that all too soon you'll be sitting in the audience proudly watching your student graduate from college."
The program also included recognition from the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, which founded the university in 1910. Dr. Anthony Jordan, executive director of the BGCO, commended the graduates.
"Oklahoma Baptists are proud that this is the Baptist university of Oklahoma, and we are proud of you," said Jordan.
The graduating class included 16 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 Kali Corinne Bird, San Antonio, Texas; Melanie Lynn Bristow, Cypress, Texas; Kelly Rene