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Commencement 2011 notables

May 18, 2011 : Liberty University News Service

Every year, it is a tradition to recognize some notable graduates during the main Commencement ceremony. This year Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. recognized the following graduates in his welcome speech.

  • Elaine Doby, of Lexington, S.C., is the oldest graduate in the Class of 2011. At 79 years old, she received the Biblical Studies degree in theology. She began her degree more than 10 years ago but had to postpone her studies when her husband became ill in order to take care of him. Since his recovery, she was able to return to her studies and graduate. Doby attends First Baptist Church of Lexington where she leads the Encouragers Women's LifeGroup. She is a former church musician and enjoys leading music at local nursing homes on Sundays.
  • Jamal Bowers and George Larson received their degrees posthumously on Saturday. Their graduation regalia was draped over their chairs. Bowers, a master sergeant in the army stationed at Fort Bragg in Fayetteville, N.C. , died in the service of his country on March 18. He was 41. He was deployed to Africa and his cause of death was listed as non-combatant.  His wife, Kawana, and two children attended Commencement. George Larson from New Jersey graduated Summa Cum Laude with a 4.0 GPA.  His wife Cynthia and her cousin attended Commencement. Mrs. Larson walked with her husband’s photo in hand. Chancellor Falwell asked everyone to keep the Bowers and Larson families in their prayers.
  • The family of Rodney Autry was also recognized. Autry, pastor of Union Baptist Church in Hayes, Va., and his wife Lynn had four children graduating on Saturday. Jonathan Autry received his M. Div. from Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, Jeremiah Autry received his B.A in Philosophy and Religion, Joseph Autry, received his B.S. in History and a Minor in Psychology and Jessica Autry received her BS in Family and Child Development and a double minor in Psychology and Special Education. Jonathan’s wife, Rebecca, also graduated with her master’s in Human Resources. (The Autrys’ other child, Joshua, graduated from Liberty in 2005).
  • The Class of 2011 included 2,434 graduates who are actively serving in our nation’s armed forces. Liberty held commissioning ceremonies for students from the Air Force ROTC and Army ROTC.

Other individuals were recognized for their support and contributions to Liberty.

  • Dr. Jill Jones, a professor in the School of Education, was tragically killed, along with her son, Nico, in an automobile accident in August 2010. The School of Education gave a special tribute to Jones during its diploma ceremony.
  • John and Jean Ward are longtime supporters of Liberty. For the past 12 years, they have had a grandchild at Liberty every year. Two of their granddaughters graduated on Saturday.