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Knight, Eads receive Life Beautiful Awards at SBU commencement

Southwest Baptist University confers 580 degrees during three ceremonies

BOLIVAR, Mo. – Southwest Baptist University conferred 355 undergraduate degrees during two ceremonies Friday, May 20, and 225 graduate degrees during a ceremony Saturday, May 21 in the Jane and Ken Meyer Wellness and Sports Center on the Bolivar campus. 

Commencement is the most important academic event for any University,” said Dr. Rick Melson, president of SBU and professor of leadership. “For SBU, we are a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing students to be 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.”

President Rick Melson, Corynn Knight, and Provost Lee Skinkle as Corynn is presented with awardLife Beautiful Awards

The 2022 recipients of the Life Beautiful Award are Corynn Knight of Bolivar, Mo., and Tyler Eads of Neosho, Mo. 

Knight graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in biology with a biomedical science concentration. She is a member of Alpha Chi National Honor Society and Sigma Zeta Science and Mathematics National Honors Society. 

Knight participated in a 10-week internship in the neuroscience department at Johns Hopkins University where she assisted Dr. Alfredo Kirkwood, who specializes in studying brain plastic and memory development. She ran data analysis on the results of the lab and presented the finding at two major symposiums at the end of the summer. She presented at the National Sigma Zeta research conference during the Spring of 2022 and was honored with the Natural Sciences Student Service Award. 

“Corynn possesses a Christ-like humility, gentle nature and a quiet confidence,” Dr. Melson read from a nomination letter. “She models a life committed to serving Christ in all aspects of her life, whether it be on mission trips, on the College Ministry Leadership Team at First Baptist Church of Bolivar, or in the biology research lab. Corynn Knight’s Christian character embodies the high standards of the Life Beautiful Award.”

Knight is the daughter of Michael and Shawndee Knight of Bolivar.

President Rick Melson, Tyler Eads, and Provost Lee Skinkle pose for photo after Tyler is presented with awardEads, the son of Kevin and Tammy Eads of Neosho, Mo., graduated summa cum laude with a bachelor of science degree in accounting. He is a member of the Gordon and Judy Dutile Honors Program, Delta Mu Delta, the Honors advisory board, Enactus, accounting club and has served as an Ambassador of the President – all while maintaining a 4.0 grade point average. He has accepted an accounting position with Miller Management Systems and will be attending seminary at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary where he has been accepted into the Presidential internship program on a full-tuition scholarship.

Eads served as a leader of the New York City missions team through SBU’s Center for Global Connections during the winter of 2021-22. He helps organize the weekly speaking and prayer schedule for Locamente, a student-led worship service. In addition, he founded “The Awakening,” a three-day student-led revival on campus and has been a guest speaker in Chapel.

Eads also is involved in Crossway Baptist Church’s college ministry group as part of the hospitality team, where he talks to new students and helps with questions about the church. He also participates as a small-group leader and has served on pastor search and missions committees, as well as with a mission organization in South Asia for eight weeks.

“Tyler is an exemplary student who is actively living out the Great Commission,” Melson said.

The Life Beautiful Award was established in 1937 by Rosalee Mills Appleby, a career missionary to Brazil. This award is given annually to an outstanding man and woman in the Southwest Baptist University spring graduating class. These individuals have demonstrated by their scholarship and character that they are living a “life beautiful.” The faculty selects the recipients, whose identities remain confidential until commencement.

Provost Lee Skinkle, Dr. Duke Jones, and President Rick Melson pose for picture while wearing graduation regaliaOrien B. Hendrex Award

Dr. Duke Jones, professor in the division of Christian ministry, received the Orien B. Hendrex Distinguished Teacher Award. Jones has been a member of the SBU faculty since 2004 when he began as an assistant professor of Christian education. He is married to Dr. Melinda Jones, professor of music at SBU, and has one daughter, Taylor, who is 20 years old.

One student said, “He has helped me to understand how important discipleship is and that it is one of the most important functions of the church. He has helped me to see how to practically do ministry, and is one of the most caring and hilarious professors you will ever meet.”

The award is presented annually to a faculty member who has been regarded by the previous three years’ graduating classes to be outstanding in both teaching ability and personal guidance. In 1969, the SBU Board of Trustees designated this award in memory of Hendrex, a former academic dean.

Students smile as they leave the graduation ceremonyCommencement speakers

Jeffrey Metzler, a bachelor of science in nursing graduate, delivered the Bob R. Derryberry Senior Address, while Cori Fincher, a bachelor of science in general music and percussion graduate, presented the senior music at Friday’s opening ceremony. 

Metzler described his view on commencement as “a piece of dark chocolate: bittersweet.” 

“Sweet because we can finally celebrate the work that went into the papers, the projects and assignments,” Metzler said. “However, commencement also has a bitter component to it. For many here, this is the final time that we will see our friends, professors and mentors who have provided so much during our time here. The SBU community occupies a large space in our hearts, and many will struggle to find a new community to fill that void.”

Metzler highlighted the most important lesson he feels SBU teaches – how to live for Christ, regardless of the background each student has experienced.

View looking down row of graduates sitting in ceremony wearing silver caps and gowns“Whether it be through Chapel services, Bible studies, Locamente or community service projects, if you come to SBU, you will leave with a better understanding of what it means to live for Christ – not just live as a Christian,” Metzler said. “And it is that same SBU community which has never failed to support us students. 

“Because of the lessons, experiences and people of this university, each of us are fully prepared to create another community like SBU – a community that puts Christ at the center of all things, a community that cares for its neighbors and a community that is going to encourage others to serve the world for Christ.”

Wade Hopkins ’91, Regional Vice President / Gulf Coast Multi-Area Director for the Fellowship of Christian Athletes and two-time All-American as a wide receiver for SBU Football, delivered the commencement address at all three ceremonies.

Hopkins shared his experience of coming to SBU with the dream of playing college football, and beyond, and becoming the only member of his family to earn a college degree. He encouraged the graduates to not take this moment for granted.

“This is a big deal,” Hopkins said. “You may not think that, but it is. As it has been said, this isn’t the finish line, this is only the starting line. This is where it all started for me. This is where I gave my life and my heart to my Jesus Christ as my Lord and Savior. This is where I grew on and off the field through my coaches’ and my teachers’ influences.”

Male graduate receives M-B-A hood during commencement ceremonyIt was also at SBU where Hopkins met his wife, Julie ’91, of 28 years, and where he learned that sports could be a tool to share the Gospel, which led him to FCA after his football playing days were over.

Hopkins shared the story of two men, competing in the 2016 Olympics – Mo Farah, who had dominated the event and should have broken the world record in the finals, but something about that race struck Hopkins, as he watched with his daughters.

“Why would he ever let the pace of a race determine his future,” Hopkins wondered. “He’s trained hard, he’s prepared, he knows exactly what he’s going to face on that track, and he let somebody else dictate his life? His pace?”

As they watched the 400 meters, Hopkins was intrigued by the runner in lane 8 – a spot usually reserved for the slowest time and where the other seven runners are behind him.

“They come off the curve and the announcer goes nuts,” Hopkins recalled. “Wayde van Niekerk still has a 5-meter lead and they’re not catching him, and he takes off. He not only won the gold medal for the first time in the history of the Olympics from lane 8 – he set the world record.

“I believe this is exactly what we all need to be reminded of every day. Wayde van Niekerk didn’t need to be in the middle of the track (usually reserved for the fastest times) to get a feel for the race. Don’t get a feel for the race. Prepare yourself. Be ready. God has called you and equipped you to do everything you need to accomplish what He’s called you to do.

“Run your race. van Niekerk never saw his competition. He trusted his training, he trusted his plan and he trusted his coach. You never reach your goals and you never honor God running to the level of your competition, living at the pace of our culture. Run your race.”

A livestream of the commencement ceremonies is available at

Photos from the bachelor's and associate's degree ceremonies

Photos from the graduate degrees ceremony

Photo 1 – Corynn Knight – Life Beautiful: Corynn Knight of Bolivar, Mo., was named the female recipient of the Life Beautiful Award, presented by SBU President Dr. Rick Melson (left) and SBU Provost Dr. Lee Skinkle.

Photo 2 – Tyler Eads – Life Beautiful: Tyler Eads of Neosho, Mo., was named the male recipient of the Life Beautiful Award, presented by SBU President Dr. Rick Melson (left) and SBU Provost Dr. Lee Skinkle.

Photo 3 – Dr. Duke Jones, professor in the division of Christian ministry, received the Orien B. Hendrex Distinguished Teacher Award, presented by SBU President Dr. Rick Melson (left) and SBU Provost Dr. Lee Skinkle.

Photo 4 –SBU Class of 2022 bachelor degree graduates exit the John Q. Hammons Court at the conclusion of the undergraduate ceremony on Friday, May 20.

Photo 5 –SBU Class of 2022 associate degree graduates celebrate after receiving their diplomas during their ceremony on Friday, May 20.

Photo 6 – Luis Romero receives his master’s hood during the SBU Class of 2022 graduate degree ceremony on Saturday, May 21.

*Published: 5-21-2022