To follow COVID-19 protocols, North Greenville University (NGU) held two commencement services on Friday, Dec. 11. The first commencement for the graduate school and online undergraduates was held at 1 p.m., which included a keynote address from Dr. Tawana Scott, NGU's associate vice president of adult and graduate academic services. Professor Lisa Van Riper, NGU's consultant for public policy, was the featured speaker for the traditional undergraduate ceremony at 6 p.m., which included a surprise presentation from the 117th Governor of South Carolina, the Honorable Henry McMaster and First Lady Peggy McMaster.
It remains the University's highest priority to provide as safe an environment as possible to our community and guests. The COVID-19 protocols released by the University for the fall semester also guided the commencement experience. Guests were asked to wear masks, be physically distant, and offered overflow seating in other campus areas.
Graduate School and Online Undergraduate Commencement
Scott, employed at NGU's T. Walter Brashier Graduate School since 2005, reminded the almost 100 graduate and online graduates that as they leave from here, "you are saved by grace through faith, which is a gift."
"Let us never forget that we are image-bearers of Christ," she said. "We are His tapestry, His workmanship, and He is continually conforming us to the image of Christ. This degree you have earned is part of that process to prepare you for the next journey."
"No matter the calling of service on your life, we believe you are better prepared to be the fragrance of Christ where you will serve. It has been a joy for all of us to participate in Christ's work in your life," Scott said.
Before conferring degrees, University Provost Dr. Nathan A. Finn presented a posthumous degree to Mark Asbury Bowling. Bowling fulfilled most of the requirements for the Doctor of Ministry degree before his unexpected death earlier this semester. His academic regalia was draped over the chair where he would have been seated, and members of his family were in attendance to accept the degree in his honor.
Traditional Undergraduate Commencement
Approximately 137 traditional undergraduates, family, and friends, including graduates who could not walk in May commencement because of the pandemic, gathered for the 6 p.m. exercise.
President Fant introduced Van Riper as the keynote speaker. But before she took the podium, Fant introduced the many guests and dignitaries present in the audience.
The final guests introduced were the 117th Governor of South Carolina and NGU honorary graduate Henry McMaster and his wife, Peggy. They were present to assist President Fant and NGU First Lady in presenting Van Riper with an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters.
McMaster assisted President Fant in presenting the highest recognition that a university can award in recognition of her distinguished work in public policy and the dedication to the University's students, ideals, and engagement with both church and society. McMaster and President Fant robed and hooded Van Riper. NGU's First Lady, Lisa, placed the doctoral tam on her head as SC's First Lady handed her a flower bouquet.
To begin her address, Van Riper reflected on her undergraduate commencement experience.
Even though she doesn't remember details, she recalls two groups of people present: the faculty and her parents. Because of her faculty advisor making a transcript correction, she was able to earn a full scholarship to graduate school at the University of South Carolina.
"As you reflect, you may realize that you also have had such faculty members. In fact, I know you have because it has been my privilege to serve with many of these great men and women," said Van Riper.
She also talked about her family. Even though her mom was a first-generation college student, her dad experienced a challenging childhood. His post-high school years were interrupted by World War II. He returned from the war to buy a farm and begin a family. College eluded him but determined that it would not by-pass his children. Van Riper asked the graduates to reflect in gratitude on the parents or significant adults who have enabled them to complete this degree.
Van Riper then asked the graduates to reflect and refocus.
She told a story about her dad on Christmas Eve in 1958. A child showed up at their door wearing inadequate shoes selling kindling. Her dad bought two bundles even though their home had no fireplace or wood-burning stove. Her dad warmed and fed the young boy, bought him shoes, and returned to his home.
She explains that she first publically shared this story in 1995 when working for SC Governor David Beasley and Mrs. Beasley's Putting Families First Foundation. This program paired families seeking work with faith and non-profit organizations. The story became a part of the training for SC Governor David Beasley and Mrs. Beasley's Putting Families First Foundation program. Thousands of copies were sent throughout South Carolina and to other states interesting in initiating the same program. The story was submitted to the National Governor's Association when the Foundation was nominated for a national award, which the Foundation won.
"The most poignant impact of this story came to me from a North Greenville graduate who, while on a mission trip to West Virginia, attended a worship service during which a man walked down the church aisle barefooted to receive Christ as his Savior. Remembering my dad's story, the NGU graduate removed his shoes and fitted them on the man's feet. The new convert walked out of that church not only with a new heart but with new shoes," she said.
She says the application for graduates of a school committed to equipping leaders for the transformation of church and society is simple.
"Don't wait for some extraordinary opportunity to transform. It's been my experience that transformation comes with one decision, one choice, one faithful response at a time. And, the transformational opportunity is often wrapped in the ordinary," she said. "This principle is embedded in Scripture. The young boy who brought his basket of five fish and two loaves of bread to Jesus. It was an ordinary lunch, but in the hands of the Jesus, it fed 5,000."
She concluded with two simple questions for the graduates as they reflect and refocus. "What's in your basket? Will you surrender your basket for use by Jesus? If you will, you might see real transformation not only in the life of someone else but also in yours."
NGU alumnus chose NGU for a second time for its 'genuine interest in me and affordability.'
Two-time NGU alumnus Jason Young ('00, D.Min. '20) from Loganville, GA, received his Doctor of Ministry degree on Friday as a member of the Class of 2020. Young owns his own company, where he is an author, speaker, and coach. He works with leaders in churches and companies to help them build remarkable guest and team member experiences.
When asked why he chose to attend NGU a second time, he responded with three reasons.
"First, I have a great history with the school as an alumnus and appreciated my undergraduate experience. Second, Dr. [Larry] McDonald, Director of the D.Min. program was a draw. From the beginning, his actions showed a genuine interest in me as a student, leader, and follower of Jesus. Third, the degree was affordable and delivered in a format that worked well for me," Young said.
He says a highlight of the program included the lessons he learned through research and writing.
"This came through personal discipline, but a lot of it came from Dr. McDonald pushing me to uncover that next level of research to write a better dissertation with personal and professional applications," he said.
Young defended his D.Min. professional dissertation on Biblical Hospitality in October. He chose this topic because of the enormous implications for the church, corporations, and individual leaders.
"The more hospitable a leader and organization is, the more a person will want to be around them. The greatest example of this type of person is Jesus," said Young. "Jesus reset the culture by breaking barriers and showing hospitality to people that were often overlooked. The result was a change in how people felt and what they believed."
Young not only felt the pressure of defending his dissertation but experienced a little extra tension. NGU President Dr. Gene C. Fant, Jr., served as the second chair of his oral defense committee. While he has served on many graduate committees in the past, this was President Fant's first opportunity to serve on an oral defense committee at NGU.
"Because of Dr. Fant's passion for hospitality, I knew he would be a great asset in serving on Jason Young's D.Min. oral defense team. Jason's topic of hospitality-focused on examining the Bible's teaching and example of hospitality as well as creating approaches for churches to adopt," said McDonald. "Dr. Fant enhanced the breadth and depth of the defense team from his vast study and experience in this area. Although it is unusual for a university president to sit on a doctoral oral defense committee, Dr. Fant made time to serve and greatly strengthened the experience."
"When Dr. McDonald first mentioned him being on my oral defense committee, I acted chill about it. Inside, I was a little nervous. That did not change on the day of my oral defense," he said. "He [Dr. Fant] asked great questions, pushed me to clarify content, and encouraged me with rich examples I had not processed before. He not only added to the committee but my dissertation and my life as a leader."
Fant says it was a joy to participate in the defense.
"I saw first-hand what I already had heard, that Dr. Larry McDonald is a tremendous mentor to our Doctor of Ministry students. I also saw quite vividly how our goal of producing thoughtful ministry practitioners really is carried out," Fant said. "Dr. Young's project is an incredible combination of his world-class experience in working with ministry volunteers couched in the context of a biblical framework. I look forward to seeing how his project not only influences his ministry but also how it impacts others more broadly."
Young is a hospitality and leadership coach and communicator. He was most recently the Director of Guest Experience at Buckhead Church and North Point Ministries, a nationally known network of churches with 40,000 people in average weekly attendance. Young has worked with numerous organizations, including Ford Motor Company, Life Church, and Chick-fil-A. He has written four books: The Table of Influence, The Come Back Effect, The Volunteer Effect, and The Volunteer Survival Guide. He has also written for multiple publications and enjoys curating helpful content for the Saturday Rundown at jasonyounglive.com.
Young says he would encourage anyone looking for a D.Min. program to consider NGU's program.
"I would encourage others to attend the doctoral program at NGU if there is a curiosity to increase knowledge on a topic, grow personally, and have a coach in their corner to help them get to the finish line. I would encourage others to overcome their fear of the unknown and step towards what next looks like for them academically and professionally."
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