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OBU Celebrates 232 Graduates During Spring Commencement on May 18

May 18, 2024

OBU conferred degrees upon 232 graduates during Spring Commencement May 18. The ceremony took place at First Southern Baptist Church in Del City. Ricky Dickson, the recently retired CEO of Blue Bell Creameries, delivered the commencement address.

Beverly Glover, vice president for university culture, opened the ceremony with the invocation.

Dr. Heath A. Thomas, president of OBU, presided over the ceremony and welcomed guests, reflecting upon the importance of the moment for all graduates and their families, friends and loved ones. Dr. Todd Fisher, executive director-treasurer of Oklahoma Baptists, offered a greeting and congratulations to the graduates.

An investiture was conducted to posthumously award Walter O. Mason, Jr., with an OBU Honorary Doctor of Philosophy degree. 

Mason was OBU’s first Black professor. His career at OBU began in 1968 when he served as assistant professor of education and the director of OBU Upward Bound until 1974. 

Mason's leadership also led to the creation of the Southwest Association of Student Assistance Programs (SWASAP), a coalition of student success programs across Oklahoma, Texas, Arkansas, Louisiana and New Mexico. His name is given to both an education foundation and an award, the Walter O. Mason Award, among the highest honors one can receive in the student assistance field.

OBU recently created the Walter O. Mason, Jr. Kingdom Diversity Hall of Fame and last month inducted Ycedra Daughty as the inaugural inductee. This new Hall of Fame was created to recognize and honor individuals whose lives are dedicated to promoting and advancing Kingdom diversity. This is rooted in the value of people from all nations, kindreds, peoples and tongues, as described in Revelation 7:9.

Thomas then recognized retiring faculty and staff: Teri Walker, assistant registrar/degree counselor after 40 years of service and Dr. Sidney Watson, professor of English, who taught at OBU for 25 years. 

Following a hymn and scripture reading, graduating senior Jaylin Anders sang “God of the Deep,” accompanied by Claire Marquardt on the piano.

Thomas then introduced Dickson, who began his career with Blue Bell as a territory manager, moving through the roles of sales manager, branch manager, division manager, general manager of the Broken Arrow plant, vice president, president and then CEO.  After 43 years of service, Dickson retired from Blue Bell in March of 2024. Dickson has always been involved in community organizations and continues to do so. While living in Oklahoma, he served two terms on the Broken Arrow Chamber of Commerce board of directors. He has been a Rotary member since 1990. 

Dickson was president of Faith Mission from 2009-2022, a local ecumenical Christian-based non-profit organization created to assist the homeless and working poor in the community and has been involved with the organization since 2006. He was ordained as a deacon at the First Baptist Church in San Antonio in 1987 and was chair of deacons at Central Baptist Church in Bryan, Texas, in 2022. Dickson and his wife Anita have five children and eight grandchildren.

Dickson began by recounting the dramatic events of August 27, 1883, on the Indonesian island of Krakatoa. A volcanic eruption produced what scientists believe to be the loudest sound produced on the surface of the planet, estimated at 310 decibels. It was heard 2,233 miles away in Alice Springs, Australia. The eruption caused the island to collapse, creating tsunami waves up to 151 feet high that reached as far as South Africa. Dickson used this vivid example to emphasize the power of sound and its far-reaching impact.

Transitioning from this dramatic illustration, Dickson posed thought-provoking questions to the graduates: "As you look towards your future, how loud would you like your life to be?" and "If your sound—your life—going out is defined by the pressure waves coming in, where will you allow the pressure waves to come from?"

He encouraged the graduates to seek guidance not from the world's clamor but from their Heavenly Father, emphasizing the importance of listening to God’s often subtle whispers.

Dickson shared insights from his journey, as described in his book "One Scoop at a Time," highlighting the significance of recognizing God's voice.

"Ironically, as loud as God can speak, He often speaks more in a whisper, this in order to draw you in. The closer you are to Him, the clearer you hear His voice," he noted.

He urged the graduates to measure the "decibel meter" of their lives, asking them to consider what sound their lives would make. Dickson then offered three guiding principles encapsulated in the "Three P’s" of advice: Purpose, Passion and Patience.

Purpose: He stressed the importance of having a clear vision, citing Helen Keller's words, 

“The only thing worse than being blind was having sight and no vision,” he said. 

Dickson encouraged students to seek God's plan for their lives and pray for clarity.

“Realize God made you with a specific purpose...for such a time as this. Learn His purpose," Dickson advised.

Passion: Dickson highlighted the necessity of dreaming big, quoting Mark Batterson, “We start dying the day we stop dreaming and ironically, we start living the day we discover a dream worth dying for.” 

Dickson told graduates that they should live out of imagination rather than memory and avoid living by logic alone. 

"Have a dream that only can be explained by the God that planted that seed," he said.

Patience: To illustrate patience, Dickson shared the story of the Chinese bamboo tree, which takes five years to break ground but can grow up to 90 feet in five weeks once it does. This growth, he explained, is a metaphor for the importance of nurturing one's faith and waiting for God’s perfect timing. 

"In order to survive and grow to such heights, it must be watered and fertilized every day for five years," he explained. "If we surrender our hearts to Christ and water and cultivate our daily journey with the Master, we can accomplish mighty things according to His will."

Dickson encouraged the graduates to recognize their unique purpose, dream God-sized dreams, and cultivate patience to fulfill their divine potential. 

He said, "Realize God made you with a specific purpose...for such a time as this. Learn His purpose, dream big, and understand that patience prepares you for the right moment to accomplish His perfect will for your life.” 

Following Dickson’s address, the undergraduate class was presented by Max Petersen, OBU Student Government Association president.

The bachelor’s degree candidates were presented by Dr. Larinee Dennis, co-provost and dean of business, health, science and education, and Dr. Matthew Emerson, co-provost and 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.

In his address to the graduating class, Thomas shared insights from his own academic journey, emphasizing the significance of living in the present tense. He began by recounting his struggles with language acquisition, stating, "Over the course of my academic career, like so many of our faculty colleagues, my interests in the ancient world and scholarship led me to learn several languages." Despite the challenges he faced, he persevered, recognizing that proficiency in languages was essential for his scholarly pursuits.

Thomas highlighted the importance of the present tense in language, explaining, "The present tense is verbal action oriented toward the now rather than the past or the future." 

With examples, he illustrated the immediacy of the present tense, emphasizing its relevance to the graduates' lives.

 Thomas urged the graduates to embrace the present moment.

“While it is good and right to reflect on the past and celebrate victories and defeats, learn from them and grow…and while it is necessary always to look ahead and prepare for the future responsibly…it is up to us to live in the present,” he said.

He emphasized the importance of their actions today in shaping their tomorrows, urging them not to squander their time on trivial pursuits.

Thomas referenced Deuteronomy, stating, "In Deuteronomy, the call for living in the present tense is captured by the word ‘today.’ We cannot do everything today, but each day opens an opportunity for us to be fully present in what God has before us." 

He encouraged the graduates to embrace each day as a gift and to live with intentionality and purpose.

Thomas reminded the graduates of the words of Jesus, "Therefore don’t worry about tomorrow, because tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own." 

He reassured them of God's provision and urged them to trust in His divine care as they navigated the uncertainties of the future.

For the graduates, living in the present tense meant confronting past hurts, embracing new challenges, fostering relationships, and deepening their spiritual journey. Thomas encouraged them to seize the opportunities before them, stating, "Tomorrow is not guaranteed, but today is your moment."

As they prepared to embark on their post-graduate journeys, Dr. Thomas reminded the graduates of their unique identity as alumni of Oklahoma Baptist University. He commended their dedication and urged them to remember those who had supported them along the way. He concluded his address with a prayer, asking that they would allow Jesus to work through their lives, catalyzing positive change in the world.

Thomas affirmed the transformative impact of their OBU experience, stating, "We have equipped you to live worthy of the high calling of God in Christ." 

He reminded them of their responsibility to embody wisdom, service, and love, echoing OBU's mission to prepare students for a life of purpose and significance.

Thomas then delivered his final charge to the graduating class of 2024.

“From Bison Hill, 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 2024 graduate Emily Day, whom Marquardt accompanied on the piano, and Deron Spoo, senior pastor of First Baptist Church Tulsa, delivered the benediction.

This spring marked the third commencement at First Southern Baptist Church, Del City, since last year. 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. However, due to damage caused by the EF2 tornado on April 19, 2023, the chapel’s auditorium was not available for the commencement ceremony.

Watch the video of OBU's May graduation ceremony on the OBU YouTube channel.