“Dream no small dreams. Pursue no trivial visions. For they have no power to inspire the souls of men.” (A. Hope Owen, president of Wayland Baptist University, 1953-1963)
Images of graduation splash across the computer screen—from grinning kindergarteners in miniature caps and gowns, to seniors bidding high school farewell, to university and professional graduates embarking on their careers. The formal, tradition-filled ceremonies mark the ending of one life stage and the beginning or commencement of the next.
The pictures naturally evoke images of more than 150 “Pomp and Circumstance” ceremonies I’ve attended. The first I remember was Pam Newton’s, my mother’s first cousin who graduated in the Waco High School class of 1959. In May, our family celebrated grandson Sawyer’s Oh, the Places You’ll Go!-themed kindergarten graduation, complete with balloon essay display. This year, I marshalled three Baylor University ceremonies, rejoicing as more than 2,300 students became alumni.One of those, Laura Gregory, received her degree wearing her grandfather Howard Lee’s Baylor baseball letter jacket under her robe to honor his memory.
This spring, more than 300,000 teens will graduate from public high schools in Texas. In Wimberley, 169 gave up their senior trip to volunteer and donate to disaster relief. Another 13,000 Texas private school seniors will earn their diplomas, including 73 proud graduates of San Marcos Baptist Academy in a ceremony also affected by floods. During the academic year, Texas Baptist universities will award nearly 10,000 degrees. And we had a part by founding and sustaining the schools. That involvement continues today through financial support and nurturing churches.
New alumna Mariava Phillips put it this way: “The (Baptist General Convention of Texas) scholarship allowed me to attend Baylor and helped me graduate debt-free. During my time in Waco, I was also involved with First Baptist Church. This church family challenged, encouraged and mentored me in my own calling. I’m so grateful for Texas Baptists’ generosity and impact on my life.”
Since Stephen Decatur Rowe became Baylor’s first graduate in 1854 and Mary Gentry Kavanaugh the first female graduate in 1855,Texas Baptist schools have prepared women and men for service and leadership in churches and society. I’m grateful for the education students receive at Baptist University of the Américas, Baylor, Dallas Baptist, East Texas Baptist, Hardin-Simmons, Houston Baptist, Howard Payne, Mary Hardin-Baylor, Wayland Baptist and San Marcos Baptist Academy. This year, I’m especially thankful, since the staff at my church boasts degrees from six Texas Baptist colleges.
These institutions’ websites feature photographs of eager students balancing mortarboards as they receive diplomas. Others depict customs surrounding commencement. Seniors at San Marcos Baptist Academy, the BGCT’s only college preparatory school, don’t don caps and gowns. Instead, young ladies wear long white dresses and carry bouquets of red roses, while young men appear in tuxedos or military dress uniforms.
Two traditions occur graduation eve. At Ribbon Ceremony, senior girls pass a beautiful ribbon to their junior counterparts in the Prayer Garden. Later, Rose & Sabre takes place at the Senior Gate, which stood at the Texas Capitol for a century. The gate is unlocked once a year as graduates pass through while their accomplishments and future plans are read.
Howard Payne seniors participate in Chime Out. In the pre-commencement ceremony, seniors pass a garland representing leadership to underclassmen. As freshmen, they were “Chimed In” as HPU prayerfully welcomed them to the family. Mary-Hardin Baylor seniors pass the mantle of leadership in the Robing Ceremony, and only seniors and alumni can sing “Up With the Purple.” At Dallas Baptist, Candlelighting is held the night before commencement, and each person’s candle is lit one by one.
Some of the most memorable pictures on my screen show proud faces of moms and dads, professors and teachers, and others who share in the celebration. For them, commencement is not about endings or beginnings but about thanks-giving. And those thank-givings should be returned.
When each of our children finished high school, John and I feted them with a pre-graduation dinner. They could invite one or two teachers who significantly impacted them. I wrote each an invitation/note explaining. David Vardeman seemed pleased at Marshall’s dinner, Nancy Hutto at Michael’s and Keren Crawford and Jean Dawson at Holly’s.
I wish I could invite every Texas Baptist to dinner to say thank you. Since I can’t, I’m sending this note to each of you: “Thank you, Texas Baptists, for helping students from preschool through college dream no small dreams and pursue no small visions through your churches and schools. I once was one of them.”
Kathy Hillman is president of the Baptist General Convention of Texas. She also is director of Baptist collections, library advancement and the Keston Center for Religion, Politics and Society at Baylor University.