OBU conferred degrees upon 232 graduates during Spring Commencement May 20. The ceremony took place at First Southern Baptist Church in Del City. Dr. Alan Noble, OBU associate professor of English, delivered the commencement address.
Raley Chapel’s Potter Auditorium on the OBU campus has served as the traditional location for commencement since the iconic building was constructed in 1961. Due to damage caused by the April 19 tornado, the chapel’s auditorium is not available for the commencement ceremony this year. First Southern Baptist Church quickly offered their beautiful church as a site to honor OBU’s esteemed graduates.
Saturday’s commencement addressed meeting challenges and progressing through with God leading the way. OBU President Dr. Heath A. Thomas and Noble spoke of how this graduating class has and will continue to embody that principle.
Dr. Lyda Murillo Wilbur, OBU assistant professor of Spanish, opened the ceremony with the invocation.
Thomas presided over the ceremony and welcomed guests, reflecting upon the importance of the moment for all graduates as well as their families, friends and loved ones. Dr. Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, offered a greeting and congratulations to the graduates.
Following a hymn and scripture reading, graduating senior Abigail Ekrut played “Nearer, Still Nearer” on the piano.
Thomas then introduced Noble, who is the author of numerous books and articles. He has been teaching composition and literature for over a decade, beginning at Antelope Valley College in his hometown of Lancaster, Calif., and then at Baylor University. He has contributed scholarship on Cormac McCarthy and has published three books with InterVarsity Press: Disruptive Witness: Speaking Truth in a Distracted Age, You Are Not Your Own: Belonging to God in an Inhuman World, and On Getting Out of Bed: The Burden and Gift of Living.
In addition, Noble is a Fellow at the Keller Center for Cultural Apologetics; an advisor for the online magazine, Christ and Pop Culture; co-founder of the evangelical political organization, Public Faith; a member of the Leadership Council of the AND Campaign; and a freelance writer whose work has appeared in The Atlantic, Vox, Buzzfeed, First Things, Christianity Today, and The Gospel Coalition.
Noble has given talks on literature, popular culture, technology, secularism, and related issues at a number of colleges, churches, and organizations.
Noble emphasized to students that God led them to Bison Hill and that through all they will face in life, they should continue to remain trusting in and following His loving and perfect leadership. He spoke of “how to suffer well.”
“I want to remind you now that your life is a testament,” Noble said. “A living witness of the goodness of God and His creation. Every day that you step foot upon the floor you proclaim with your life and at the risk of great suffering that life is good. And the goodness of your life is not such a fragile thing that it requires you to achieving excellence in order to validate it. The goodness of your life comes from its giftedness from God.”
He reminded graduates that the world will want to know what you “bring to the table” or how you will “change the world” and “make a difference.” But God doesn’t need anything.
“He made you because He loves you and for His own good pleasure,” Noble said. “Please hear me, He will use you to glorify Himself, but that usefulness—your usefulness is never necessary for His love or to ground the meaningfulness of your existence.”
This means the problem of having a million career and life options goes away. He reminded graduates, they don’t have to choose the right career, they just have to be faithful.
“Make a wise choice and be faithful to God in that choice,” he said. “The world is screaming at you to live your best life, to be the best version of yourself, to make yourself into something grand and important and meaningful and interesting and Instagram-worthy. And I just want you to know that you are already grand and important and meaningful because God created you, He sustains you each moment of your life, and He sent His Son to die on the cross for your sins. And that gives you the freedom to delight in this life. You don’t have to agonize over it. Just try to delight in it.“
Faithfulness is most often formed through periods of suffering, which are going to come.
“But the education you received at OBU has prepared you for that suffering; prepared you to live through affliction for the glory of God and the edification of your neighbor,” Noble said. “An education for a life well-lived is an education that prepares you to suffer well. I don’t know the hardship you will face in this life, but I do know this. We have tried to prepare you to turn that suffering to the glory of God, to endure that suffering with courage, and to use the experience of that suffering to carry others. And no matter how difficult it is, the God of the universe who loves you and knows you better than you know yourself will be with you. And He will heal you one day, in this life or in the next. Because He cares for you.”
Then he concluded his address by saying, “Now, your duty is to take that love and extend it in grace to others, to use the good, true, and beautiful gifts we have given you in this education to bless your families, churches, neighbors, and friends. To suffer well and to help others suffer well. To testify with your life to the goodness of God and His work of redemption by getting out of bed and embracing this miraculous world. I can’t imagine a better way to spend a life. And I’m excited that you get to do it.”
Following Noble’s address, the undergraduate class was presented by Rachel Lopez, OBU Student Government Association vice-president, along with Dr. Larinee Dennis, dean of business, health science and education.
The presentation of bachelor’s degree candidates was made by Dennis and Dr. Matthew Emerson, dean of theology, arts and humanities. Dennis then led in the presentation of Summa Cum Laude candidates. Following the presentation of all degree candidates, Lea Ann Quirk, director of the OBU Alumni Association, inducted the graduates into the Alumni Association.
Thomas spoke not only of well-wishes, and continued love and support from “Bison Hill,” but of admiration.
“Class of 2023, you have been through it all: pandemic, polar vortex, inflation, social unrest, ice storms and now…tornado. The pressures of life have increased exponentially in four years haven’t they? Pressure. It is real, isn’t it?”
Thomas shared about a book he recently read on the power of pressure. It recounted the story of Curt Cronin, a commanding officer of an elite US Navy SEAL unit. Cronin led through extraordinary and pressure-packed missions all over the world. He was interviewed about his experiences and the interviewer asked what many of us would ask: “What was the most pressure you have ever been under?”
“Thinking carefully, his response was different than some of us may think,” Thomas said. “Cronin recalled a leadership moment when his SEAL team was combined with other inexperienced soldiers to deploy and advance toward a large land-based target about a half a mile away. As they advanced under the cover of night, they started taking gunfire across the ranks. Cronin was faced with the pressure to act, and act quickly. What to do? First things first! Get down. Then make a choice about what to do next. He had inexperienced soldiers intermixed with seasoned soldiers, and the pressure mounted quickly.”
Cronin’s choice was to call in an airstrike by two support helicopters to suppress the gunfire and enable the advance toward the goal.
“I want to draw your attention to his comments regarding this moment of decision calling in the airstrike,” Thomas said. “He says, ‘It might have been the second- or third-best choice …but the fact the decision was made—that made it the best choice.”
Thomas told graduates they may believe the “perfect” choice exists and is waiting on them “to make it.” That may pertain to deciding on a career or where to locate. They may have heard that if they do not make the “perfect” choice, then “their lives have somehow gone off the timeline.”
“And, like the scenarios played out in popular cinema today, if we fail to grasp the perfect choice, an alternative universe of disaster awaits us,” Thomas said. “My response to that view of things? Nonsense. No perfect choice awaits us. The universe does not depend upon us. Rather, our world is sustained by God. God sustains our lives. God preserves our world whether you take this job or that job, whether you go here or there, or whether you do this or that”.
He reminded them of the words of Psalm 139, beginning with verses 7-8: “Where can I go from your Spirit? Where can I flee from your presence? If I go up to the heavens, you are there; if I make my bed in the depths, you are there.”
“The Lord surrounds us,” Thomas said. “There are just choices. And no perfect ones. So today, you may feel locked up or anxious that you will make the wrong move. The psalm reminds us that we have the privilege of going wherever the Lord leads us, and we can have confidence that God will surround and sustain us as we go. Even with the third best choices we inevitably will take.”
Thomas then delivered his final charge to the graduating class of 2023.
“Graduates, today I charge you to be brave, to be unafraid to make the third-best choice,” he said. “Your time at OBU is done, but the choices ahead lay before you. God’s mercies and opportunities await you. Mistakes and forgiveness awaits you. Healing and hope await you as you look to Christ, our hope and sustainer. Live boldly and go in faith. You have great and good days ahead, and hard days too. But in every choice, the second and third best choices, there is nowhere that we can run away from the sustaining presence of God.”
He stressed, “Our world desperately needs your voice.”
“I charge you to go into our world and make a difference for God and for good in our cities and neighborhoods,” he said. “Go and live well. Go and serve your community. Go and serve our Lord. You have been equipped. And as you do great things for our God and Savior, I want you to know you will always be a Bison, and you will always have a home at OBU. Be bold. Take courage. Be unafraid. Make a choice, even if it is the third best choice. May God bless you, and may God continue to bless OBU.”
The president’s charge was followed by “The Hymn to the Alma Mater,” led by Dr Louima Lilite and played by Dr. Patricia Nelson. Dr. Chris Jones delivered the benediction.