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Southwest Baptist University conferred 286 undergraduate degrees during two ceremonies Friday, May 19, and 176 graduate degrees during a ceremony Saturday, May 20 in the Jane and Ken Meyer Wellness and Sports Center on the Bolivar campus.
“Class of 2023, congratulations, you made it!” said President Rick Melson of SBU. “Commencement is the most important academic event for any University—at Southwest Baptist University, we are a Christ-centered, caring academic community preparing servant leaders to impact the world for Jesus Christ in a global society—commencement is the beginning for each new class of graduates to live out what they have learned through a transformational and holistic education as an SBU Bearcat.”
Life Beautiful Awards
The 2023 recipients of the Life Beautiful Award are Hayley Hershenson of West Plains, MO, and Andrew Eisenhour of Springfield, MO.
Hayley earned a Bachelor of Music in Music Education. She is a member of the National Association for Music Education (NAfME), the music educator’s student chapter, has participated in SBU’s Opera, and Chamber Singers, and is a Pi Kappa Lambda inductee. Additionally, Hayley has served First Baptist Church, Bolivar, in the choir and children’s ensemble and has served the Office of the President as a President’s Ambassador since 2021.
“Hayley is a special person with a gentle spirit, who consistently expresses genuine concern and compassion for those around her,” President Melson read from a nomination letter. “No matter her busy schedule, she takes time to truly listen to others in need, giving them advice or support, or just understanding. She is an outstanding student in her classes, digging deep into the subject matter to learn all she can. Her classmates admire her intelligence, discernment, and generosity. Hayley is the absolute model of what we hope for our graduates to be.”
Hayley is the daughter Mr. Bruce and Mrs. Sylvia Hershenson of West Plains, MO.
Andrew graduated with his Bachelor of Science in Computer Science & Mathematics with minors in Cybersecurity & Statistics. He is a recipient of SBU’s Charles and Fannie Chaney Award and J.R. Maupin Founder’s Award. In 2019 he received an International Baccalaureate Diploma and was ranked Missouri's Top 100 Scholar. In 2021, he served as SBU’s Competitive Program Team Captain, leading them to win the Kansas City Federal Reserve Bank's Code-a-Thon, and the O'Reilly Coding Challenge.
“Andrew is an eager volunteer who happily goes well beyond what is required of him, demonstrating servant leadership in his everyday walk,” President Melson read from a nomination letter. “He is honest, caring, friendly, patient, polite, and sincere. He is humble and approachable to his peers despite being one of the brightest and most successful students in his division. He keeps a good sense of humor even while working through difficult projects. Andrew is an excellent example of how to preach the Gospel at all times, and when necessary, using words.”
Andrew is the son of Mr. Tim and Mrs. Christina Eisenhour of Springfield, MO.
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.
Orien B. Hendrex Award
Dr. John Murphy, division head for the natural sciences department and the founder of the SBU agricultural program, is the 2023 recipient of the Orien B. Hendrex Distinguished Teacher Award.
Dr. Murphy has been a member of SBU’s faculty for nine years, beginning as an assistant professor of biology. He holds a Bachelor of Science degree in biology from the University of Central Missouri, a Master of Biology from South Dakota State University, and a Doctorate of Agronomy from Kansas State University. In the past 4 years, Dr. Murphy has led his students to 22 publications and 2 National Awards.
One colleague said, “He’s a selfless servant, constantly going out of the way for others, and keeps the best interests of his students at heart. His love for the Lord is evident daily in his leadership both in and out of the classroom. He laughs often, encourages those around him, and is genuine in all he does. He truly radiates joy and puts a smile on everyone’s face.”
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.
Peter Herschend, co-founder of Herschend Family Entertainment, delivered the commencement address at all three ceremonies.
Herschend earned a bachelor’s degree in business from the University ofMissouri, and was awarded an Honorary Doctorate in Business from Southwest Baptist University.
Peter and his brother Jack were teenagers when they came to the Ozarks with their parents way back in the 1950s. Their family business started with a hole in the ground called Marvel Cave, and it is beneath what we all know now as Silver Dollar City.
Herschend Enterprises is the nation’s largest family-owned company specializing in wholesome family entertainment. They “lead with love” some 13,000 men and women employed to " create memories worth repeating” for the 13 million loyal fans who come annually to their 26 properties in 9 states and Canada.
Peter is a champion of public education, as the longest-serving member of the Missouri State Board of Education, holding that position for 32 years under 7 Governors of our state. He is a philanthropist, serving on numerous boards of charities that help “the least of these” to discover the grace of God while seeking to surmount immense challenges in life.