What would have been the moment for Dr. Jerry Falwell, the late chancellor and founder of Liberty University, to deliver his customary Wednesday convocation message arrived.
Instead, Dr. Ron Godwin, executive vice president of Liberty, introduced Jerry Falwell Jr., the new chancellor of Liberty, as a Liberty alumnus, a graduate of the University of Virginia School of Law and the “creator and builder of the LU mountain monogram.”
Whereas his father was renowned for his constant presence in the public limelight, Falwell Jr. has been known as the man “behind the scenes,” having worked as in-house counsel at Liberty since 1988.
“I’m sure there’s laughter in heaven today at the fact that I’m standing here,” said Falwell Jr. “Over the last 20 years I have avoided public speaking like the plague.”
He had not spoken in convocation since 2001 when he announced the plans to build what has now become Campus East. In fact, the storm that brought hail and 50 mph winds through the Lynchburg area on Tuesday night almost prevented Falwell Jr. from speaking at all.
“The storms that blew through the area Tuesday night knocked out the power at my house,” said Falwell Jr. in an email message. “I had to go sit in a camper and run my laptop on a generator in order to write my speech that night.”
Although some may think Falwell Jr. must tackle the challenge of filling his late father’s shoes, the new chancellor knows such a task is impossible. No one can replace the creator of the Moral Majority, the pastor of one of the most influential churches in America and the founder of the largest evangelical university in the world.
“Today, Liberty embarks into a new area of uncharted territory, one that does not include our founder, but the mission remains the same — educating tomorrow’s leaders within a distinctively Christian environment,” Falwell Jr. said.
Although Dr. Falwell passed away on May 15 and Liberty is now facing a year unlike any other, Falwell Jr. was adamant that the university would hold fast to its vision — a theme many students will recognize as prevalent among the late Dr. Falwell’s sermons and convocation messages.
“We will heed the warning of Proverbs 29:18, ‘Where there is no vision, the people perish.’ And we will continue to dream and imagine and plan and work,” Falwell Jr. said.
With this new era comes a new leader in Falwell Jr., who revealed a mischievous side to his personality very much like his father’s during his remarks to the students.
Falwell Jr. jested that his wife, Becki, came to Liberty to receive her “M-R-S” degree — jokingly known as the “future wife and mom degree” among students. According to Falwell Jr., she might have completed 12 credit hours before she married him after he had graduated from law school.
Falwell Jr. went on to imply that Liberty is a great place to find a future spouse. He even referred to the infamous issue of “Playboy” magazine that rated girls at Liberty as some of the most attractive among college campuses across the nation.
His message took on a more somber tone as Falwell Jr. prepared to give his charge to the students, quoting Luke 12:48, “To whom much is given, much will be required.”
Falwell Jr. noted that the late Dr. Falwell’s $34 million life insurance policy had boosted Liberty out of debt for the first time in school history.
“It is imperative that we remember our founder, our friend and my dad fondly, and with gratitude for the work God did through him in building this house, God’s university. But we must not pine for the past, but rather look to the future with great anticipation and expectation, for while God’s work through dad was completed, His work for Liberty University is not.”
Convocation ended with a memorial video about Dr. Falwell that Falwell Jr. said was primarily for the freshmen who would never have the late chancellor point his big, black suburban at them and gun the accelerator.
The video showed snippets of Dr. Falwell’s life — crowd surfing, riding a roller coaster, preaching to his beloved church, playing with his grandchildren and holding a black sweatshirt that said, “I am a stud.”
What Dr. Falwell may have appreciated most, however, was the section of the video that played a voice clip in which the former chancellor spoke about BHAGs — big, hairy, audacious goals. Returning students cheered and clapped in response and new students undoubtedly whispered to their friends, asking about what on earth BHAG meant.
Dr. Elmer Towns, co-founder of Liberty, prayed a prayer of dedication over the school after introducing Dr. Falwell’s wife, Macel, as “the woman behind the man.” She received a standing ovation from the students.
Dr. Ed Hindson, professor of religion and dean of the Institute of Biblical Studies, closed convocation with a final charge to the students — “Go and live the dream.”
Although Liberty’s founding chancellor is gone, his big, hairy, audacious goals are not. If this campus, under the wing of Falwell Jr., pursues the vision left behind, the new chancellor may get his wish that “this be Liberty’s greatest year ever for God’s glory.”
Contact Jenni Thurman at firstname.lastname@example.org.