BOLIVAR, Mo. — Southwest Baptist University graduated more than 200 students at two winter 2021 commencement ceremonies on Friday, Dec. 10 in the Jane and Ken Meyer Wellness and Sports Center on the Bolivar campus.
The bachelor and graduate degree commencement ceremony was held first, followed by the associate degree ceremony. The University holds graduation twice a year, in December and May.
“Commencement is the most important academic event for the university,” SBU President Dr. Rick Melson said. “At SBU, we are a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to become servant leaders in a global society. Commencement is the beginning for Bearcats to live out what they have learned through a transformational and holistic education.
“Our graduates are extraordinary people, working diligently to achieve this significant milestone. Our faculty members are outstanding Christian scholars, devoted to providing excellent academic and spiritual examples for our students. We are indeed blessed. The investment you have made in the lives of SBU students is a legacy that extends beyond the classroom and affects future generations through ongoing impact for each SBU graduate.”
Hannah Dixon, a bachelor of science in general music graduate, and Hannah Laws, a computer science and mathematics major and music student, presented the senior music at the opening ceremony.
Mariah Barber, a speech communication and theatre education graduate from Bolivar, Mo., delivered the Bob R. Derryberry Senior Address at Friday’s commencement. She is the daughter of Dr. Lyle and Lisa Barber.
Barber shared how the television show she would watch with her great-grandmother – “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood” – provided lessons on how to treat your “neighbors,” no matter where you are in life.
“Fred Rogers taught me that everyone is my neighbor and that everyone deserves to be treated with love and kindness,” Barber said. “I think we can all find examples of those little, quiet moments that made the rest so worth it. For me, it was debate tournaments and theater shows. For some of you, it may be basketball games or track meets. We are very different people, but SBU brought us together in ways that I never could have imagined.
“Homecoming had us sneaking between classes for Spy Week; bed races, mud tug and free food are all things that we can get behind. And in the sea of purple in the football stands, we’re all in the same neighborhood.”
And the SBU faculty and staff always made her feel safe.
“They’re the type of neighbors you asked for spare batteries during a storm,” Barber said of her professors. “And yeah, some semesters felt like storms, but we have experienced nothing but tremendous love and protection from the faculty and staff on this campus. I will never be able to thank you enough.”
To her fellow graduates, Barber reminded them that their journey is far from over.
“As we transition into a series of new, different and exciting things, keep in mind the words of Mr. Rogers,” Barber said. “He says that doing the best we can may still fall short of what we would like to be able to do, but life isn’t perfect on any front. Doing what we can, with what we have, is the most we should expect from ourselves or anyone else.
“December Class of 2021, we will go on to do greatly different things and become greatly different people, but I hope to always consider you my neighbor.”
In his commencement address, Dr. Melson encouraged graduates that commencement is not the finish line but a milestone or mile marker, as well as a time to reflect on where God has brought them on their journey.
“There will be many mile makers throughout life, and today is a big one,” Dr. Melson said. “You’ve worked hard, your persistence and late-night study sessions – or perhaps all-nighters – have paid off. You can be proud of an amazing accomplishment. Today, we celebrate with you and set you on a course of something new as you begin the next mile on your journey and next chapter of your life.
“Imagine yourself at Welcome Week or the first day in your program: a new beginning, new names, and new faces. Yet as you look around today, those new faces have become familiar faces and lifelong friends – you studied together, learned together, ate together, worshipped together, served together, played together, cheered together, laughed together, prayed together, and cried together.
“You also have a shared experience as you were sent home early in the Spring of 2020 due to the global pandemic. Your life was upended, your friends were dispersed, and you finished your semester isolated and mostly online. But you were resilient, you persisted, you encouraged one another and you made it through together! Well done, Class of 2021!”
Dr. Melson also shared with the graduates to find something they love to do, something they are good at, and something that makes a difference in the world as they prepare for their career and calling; to find a culture, not just a job; and to never give up.
“During your time at SBU, you have also been impacted by a caring academic community on your journey,” Dr. Melson said. “The SBU community became a family who taught you, challenged you, mentored you, discipled you, coached you, and encouraged you to finish strong, to be your best, and finish well.
“Relentlessly pursue Christ and go out and make a difference in the world. Be world changers. The world needs you. Use this opportunity to give back and pay it forward – to serve and lead to make a difference in the world for Christ in whatever sphere of life God has called you to serve.”
PHOTO CUTLINES: 1. Bachelor degree and graduate degree recipients of the SBU Class of 2021 prepare to receive their degrees. 2. Mariah Barber delivers the Bob R. Derryberry Senior Address. 3. Dr. Rick Melson, president of SBU, addresses the audience at the bachelor degree ceremony. 4. Associate's degree recipients stand as class is presented during commencement ceremony.