It was a historic day at Liberty University today; the largest-ever graduating class – 10,930 – were honored at Commencement 2011; the main ceremony was held at the newly renovated Williams Stadium for the first time; and guests helped commemorate the university’s 40th anniversary and celebrate the launch of A New Era at Liberty.
Graduates represented all 50 states and 39 foreign countries. Two-thirds of this year’s graduating class have completed their degree through Liberty University Online. The most undergraduate degrees were awarded in religion, followed by degrees in business, multidisciplinary studies, psychology and education.
Despite the threat of rain, Williams Stadium was packed with 30,000 in attendance. Graduates, numbering 5,180, along with faculty, marched in to the sounds of the Liberty University Wind Ensemble and Liberty University Commencement Chorus, followed by the Liberty University Chamber Singers.
Dr. Elmer Towns, co-founder and dean of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and dean of the School of Religion, gave the welcome, followed by Liberty’s first graduate, Dr. Vernon Brewer, founder of WorldHelp, who spoke of Liberty’s humble beginnings.
To the Class of 2011, he said, “You are part of a great heritage and this great legacy and it is up to you to make sure the legacy continues.”
Brewer was also this year’s Baccalaureate speaker.
Chancellor Jerry Falwell, Jr. then greeted all graduates, recognizing parents, grandparents and spouses who have supported them along the way.
“You have sacrificed and labored for years to make this day a reality and we are proud of you,” he said. (For special recognitions at this year's ceremony, click here.)
Next, Falwell introduced the Commencement 2011 speaker, film director and screenwriter Randall Wallace, bestowing him a Doctor of Fine Arts.
The speaker is especially fitting this year, Falwell said, because Liberty is launching its own Center for the Cinematic Arts next year with a mission to impact the entertainment world with Christian values just as Wallace has. Wallace teaches film classes at Pepperdine University and plans to assist Liberty with its new film program.
Wallace is widely known for writing the screenplays for Braveheart and Pearl Harbor and directing Disney’s Secretariat, a movie about a legendary triple-crown race horse released last fall. He also wrote, directed and produced the critically acclaimed We Were Soldiers and The Man in the Iron Mask. In 1999, he formed his own company, Wheelhouse Entertainment, with the main purpose of creating entertainment for worldwide audiences based on the values of love, courage and honor.
Wallace was also a perfect match for Liberty’s graduation because he spent much of his childhood in Lynchburg; he is a graduate of E.C. Glass High School and his mother still lives here.
“Guys who direct movies aren’t the natural choice for a Commencement speech, especially at a Christian university,” Wallace began, before noting some of the struggles he has had in his career and in understanding God’s will for his life.
He said at one low point in his writing career, he prayed to God, “calling out … for help in standing up in the battle with my flag flown in worship of You.” Then, he said, “I stood up and wrote the words that led to Braveheart.”
He described making that film, which earned him an Oscar nomination for Best Original Screenplay and a Writers Guild of America award.
As he made that film, he said, his “true calling was starting to become clear. … I had to pay the price to pray that prayer. I had to enter the valley of the shadow of death … .
“You may be feeling weak and lost and confused,” he told the graduates, “but I tell you I believe with all of my heart, that feeling that way you are a more fitting tool for God than the man that believes that his money, that his fame, that the honors of other men have made him wise. Jesus gave us one clear order -- to love one another. And if you look at your parents today and you see tears in their eyes, I promise they’re not tears of sorrow or fear, these are tears of love. God loves you and if you love back in every way you can, then … you will look back on this day as the day of your greatest strength, as a day of victory.”
Before the conferring of degrees, Falwell gave his final word to the graduates, telling them the Class of 2011 is special to him.
"This is the first class at Liberty that Becki and I have watched grow and mature from 18-year-old freshman to college graduates," he said. "Thank you for your patience and support as I learned on the job how to be your chancellor."
The day was also special to him because his oldest son, Trey, was one of the graduates.
Falwell referred everyone to this year’s Commencement booklet, which included a history of the “miracle” of Liberty, about “how God led Liberty University through 40 years of struggles in the wilderness before leading the university into its promised land,” Falwell said.
“Looking back on the miracles that brought us this far gives us the strength to lead Liberty into a new era of training champions for Christ.”
In celebration of the 40th year, Falwell announced a detailed master plan for the university’s growth, which involves a “renewed focus on academic excellence, spiritual life development, Christian service, athletic achievement, student life opportunities, world-class facilities, and giving back to the community.” Building plans call for an overhaul of main campus with the addition of a freestanding library and new academic buildings, renovations to the Arthur S. DeMoss Learning Center building and grounds, more open space on campus, including a lake behind the Vines Center, and a new residential quad to replace Liberty’s oldest residential halls.
Liberty’s graduation ceremony is the largest in the Central Virginia area. The main ceremony was followed by 19 separate diploma ceremonies around campus.
Graduates: 10,930 (5,180 attended the ceremony)
78% Liberty University Online
Average GPA: 3.31 (323 graduates had a perfect 4.0)
Honors graduates: Cum Laude, 749; Magna Cum Laude, 687; Summa Cum Laude: 528.
Degrees and certifications:
JD – Juris Doctorate, 90
MAR – Master of Arts in Religion, 484
AA – Associate of Arts, 515
BA – Bachelor of Arts, 143
BM – Bachelor of Music, 29
BS – Bachelor of Science, 4,889
BSN – Bachelor of Science in Nursing, 286
DMN – Doctor of Ministry, 36
EDD – Doctor of Education, 52
EDS – Education Specialist, 329
MA – Master of Arts, 2,215
MAT – Master of Arts in Teaching, 320
MBA – Master of Business Administration, 382
MDV – Master of Divinity, 368
MED – Master of Education, 416
MRE – Master of Religious Education, 151
MS – Master of Science, 237
MSN – Master of Science in Nursing, 84
PHD – Doctor of Philosophy, 3
STM – Master of Sacred Theology, 40
THG – Graduate of Theology – Willmington School of the Bible, 33
THM – Master of Theology, 4
Grand Total 11,106*
* This number is higher than the total graduates because some are receiving multiple degrees.