OBU conferred undergraduate degrees upon 301 students during its 101st Spring Commencement Friday, May 15. The event took place on OBU's campus in Shawnee.
The graduating students took their symbolic final walk across the campus as OBU students when they filed into Raley Chapel's Potter Auditorium for the 3 p.m. ceremony. The students, in academic regalia, proceeded from the Geiger Center to the chapel, passing through rows of OBU faculty members before they reached the chapel's east steps.
Before an overflow audience of more than 1,800 in Raley Chapel's Potter Auditorium, Barbara Green, co-founder of Hobby Lobby, shared her message with the graduates, challenging them to apply their education and keep God at the center of their lives. During the commencement ceremony, OBU honored both Barbara and David Green with the Honorary Doctor of Christian Ethics degree.
Barbara Green is the founding partner, along with her husband, David, of Hobby Lobby. She serves as the spokeswoman for the company and for the Green family. She is a native of Altus, Oklahoma, and grew up as a member of First Baptist Church in Altus. The Greens launched their business producing miniature picture frames in the family's garage and opened their first retail space in Oklahoma City in 1972. The business has since grown to over 600 stores in 47 states with approximately 30,000 employees, making it the largest privately owned arts and crafts retailer in the world.
She began by congratulating the graduates. "Today, you have accomplished something in your short lives that my husband and I have never accomplished. Neither one of us went to college."
"But now, for you graduates, comes application of that education," she said. "This is where the 'rubber meets the road' as we used to say. And in that process of 'application' the most important question is, where is God? Will He be the center of all you hope to attain in life, or will He be pushed to the sideline of your life?"
She challenged the graduates to carefully consider the three most important decisions they will ever make: whether they would accept Christ as their Savior, who they will marry and their career choices. She cautioned that those choices may also require sacrifice.
"We have to be willing to give up what we sometimes think is ours and give it back to Him. After all, He is the one who allowed us to have it in the first place."
"God can be trusted even when we can't predict the outcome," she said. "God does have a plan for your life."
OBU President Dr. David W. Whitlock presented OBU's top three awards for faculty and staff. They include the Distinguished Teaching Award, Promising Teacher Award and Meritorious Service Award. Nominations for these awards are made by alumni, students, faculty and administrators. In addition to this public recognition, the recipients receive a financial gift provided by OBU graduates, John and Janet Hudson of Edmond, Oklahoma.
Dr. Albert Chen, professor of physics, was honored with the Distinguished Teaching Award, presented to a faculty member who has taught at OBU for five consecutive years or more and who exemplifies the characteristics of superior instruction delineated in the "Commitment to Excellence," a statement of teaching expectations and objectives adopted by the faculty, administration and Board of Trustees. He joined the OBU faculty in the James E. Hurley College of Science and Mathematics in 1986. During his entire time at OBU, he has conducted extensive research with NASA, including Martian dust simulation studies and researching the design of high altitude diffusers for space shuttle main engines. At OBU, he teaches all levels of physics courses. In 1989, OBU's chapter of Mortar Board honored him as Teacher of the Year.
Dr. Contessa Edgar was recognized with the Promising Teacher Award, presented to a junior faculty member who has taught at OBU less than six years and has demonstrated outstanding potential in teaching. She joined the OBU faculty in 2012 as assistant professor of biology. She previously worked as an associate research scientist for the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. She also served as an instructor in the graduate program in biomedical sciences at the University of Oklahoma Health Science Center in Norman. She previously served as a lecturer and teaching assistant in immunology at the Mayo Graduate School, where she also worked as a teaching assistant on molecular genetics.
Dr. Linda McElroy was honored with the Meritorious Service Award, presented annually to a faculty or staff member who has made a substantial commitment of years, service and who has been a loyal and faithful faculty or staff member. She joined the OBU faculty in 1990 as an assistant professor and now serves as professor of kinesiology and leisure studies. She has recently concluded 25 years as the OBU cheerleading sponsor. In 2010, she received the Distinguished Teaching Award from the university.
Three retiring faculty members were honored during the ceremony, representing a combined total of 52 years of service at OBU. Dr. Mark McClellan is retiring as dean for the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry and professor of theology and missions, a position he has held since 2009. Dr. Robbie Story Mullins is retiring as the Lawrence Peitz Chair of Business and professor of business, after serving for 31 years on the OBU faculty. Doug Tolin is retiring as assistant professor of kinesiology and leisure studies and head men's basketball coach, after 15 years of service.
The university also presented the J.M. Carroll Award to Dr. Reagan Bradford. The namesake for this award, Dr. J.M. Carroll, served as the first president of the Baptist University of Oklahoma. OBU presents the award in recognition of outstanding denominational service in the state of Oklahoma. Bradford is the former director of the Lipid Research Clinic at the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation. In addition to his work at the OMRF, he served as a special expert for the National Heart, Lung and Blood Institute. He has served as a trustee for the Baptist Foundation of Oklahoma, serving in multiple roles including board chair and board co-vice chair, as well as both a member and chair of OBU's Board of Trustees.
OBU President Dr. David W. Whitlock presided over the ceremonies. Khalil Benalioulhaj, president of the Class of 2015, presented the graduating class along with Dr. Stan Norman, provost and executive vice president for campus life.
The program also included greetings by Dr. Anthony Jordan, executive director / treasurer of the Baptist General Convention of Oklahoma, and induction of the graduates into the OBU Alumni Association by Lori Hagans, executive director of the alumni association. Dr. Brian Camp, professor of family science, led the invocation. The benediction was led by Dr. John McWilliams, associate professor of natural science.
In his charge to the graduates, Whitlock challenged them to remember they carry the distinction of being graduates of OBU, having studied at an institution that has sought to stand for Christian distinctiveness and academic excellence since its founding in 1910.
"We have sought to instill within you an honest awareness of yourself and the world around you," Whitlock said. "We have sought to strengthen your commitment to Christ. We have sought to equip you with the ability to think and with a knowledge base that provides the content for sound decision-making. We have sought to impart to you the heart to care, and the spirit to attempt great things that will make your world a better place. You are recipients of a great heritage, and I charge you to move forward with hope and courage. I challenge you to use what you have learned as a foundation block upon which you will build the rest of your life."
The graduating class included 23 seniors who earned the designation "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 Chelsea Dawniel Abinah, Taylor Andrew Boomer, Alicia Fay Daniel, Cama Danielle Dooley, Elizabeth Nicole Ellis, Hannah Makenzie Estes, Charlotte DeLane Gish, Kaitlyn Aleese Giza, Sarah Gore, Witney Noelle Harshaw, Alissa Dawn Harshberger, Halie Ann Herbert, Hannah Elizabeth Karr, Johanna Hope Kleinsasser, Morgan Emily Marshall, Tyler Scott Martin, Rebekah Suzanne McClain, Kacee Mariah McKinney, Abigail Leigh Pearson, Allie Kay Preston, Alyxandrah D. Ruhde, Kristen Joy Sidler and Marilee Regina Wilson.
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