As the Class of 2014 reflected on its accomplishments during Liberty University’s 41st Commencement Ceremony on May 10, they were reminded of the road ahead and the opposition they will face. Though the world is growing increasingly hostile toward the values and liberties they hold dear, they were told their ultimate hope is in God, who gives grace and power to overcome. With that in mind, they were encouraged to be a light in the darkness of this world.
“You should go out into the world and be salt and light,” Louisiana Gov. Bobby Jindal, the keynote speaker, charged the graduates. “Most of all, you should be bold in your faith and embrace opportunities to stand up for the truth. You never know when you might be planting a seed that will change someone’s life forever.”
President Jerry Falwell echoed this challenge as he conferred over 17,800 degrees to Liberty’s largest graduating class.
“You should not find satisfaction with the commonplace in character, attitude, and values,” he said. “By your example you should raise the intellectual and moral tone of society.”
This is evidenced by our faith in God, integrity, and respect for our fellow man, Falwell added.
|Malory Mallery reacts as her husband, Sgt. Mark Mallery, currently deployed in Afghanistan, shares his congratulations via video during the Commencement ceremony.|
Approximately 34,000 guests — including more than 6,000 graduates — celebrated the academic milestone at Williams Stadium. Many shed tears of joy as families, in traditional Liberty fashion, were called to remember the sacred love that binds us all.
“Never forget that no one succeeds in life alone,” Falwell said.
The president thanked Liberty parents for their support and encouragement and recognized the families that had the privilege of graduating together, including 43 siblings, 31 pairs of parents graduating with their children, eight sets of twins, and 132 husbands and wives who celebrated their Commencement together.
Falwell also solemnly pointed to three empty chairs, draped in regalia, representing the three posthumous degrees that were awarded. Those honored were Sarah McKeown (Studio & Digital Arts), Charles Nathan Davidson (Interdisciplinary Studies), and John Hallstrom (Interdisciplinary Studies).
Falwell reminded the crowd that many of them, both students and alumni, met their true love at Liberty.
Some loved ones were unable to attend, however. Falwell called attention to Malory Mallery, who had traveled all the way from Kansas to receive her associate degree in psychology. He surprised her with a video message from her husband, U.S. Army Sgt. Mark S. Mallery, currently stationed in Afghanistan, who congratulated his wife and expressed his sorrow for having to miss the occasion. She was so overwhelmed with emotion that she fell to her knees in tears.
Sgt. Mallery thanked Liberty on Facebook for making the moment possible and for taking care of his wife while he is overseas. “You made this a day that my wife and I will never forget. May God bless you all.”
Later in the day, U.S. Marine Lance Cpl. Joshua Everett surprised his older sister, Rebekah Everett, at the School of Health Sciences degree presentation ceremony. Having returned from a nine-month deployment in Afghanistan, Joshua Everett appeared on stage at the Schilling Center to hand his sister her B.S. in Athletic Training. Earlier in the year, Rebekah had surprised her brother’s platoon with a care package she had organized through Liberty’s Physical Therapy and Athletic Training departments.
|David (left) and Jason Benham|
During his speech, President Jerry Falwell recognized two of his personal guests: twins David (pictured left) and Jason Benham. The brothers, both Liberty alumni, just that week had an upcoming television show, “Flip It Forward,” dropped by HGTV due to pressure from left-wing watchdogs who did not like the Benhams’ personal religious views.
Falwell explained that while the media had painted them as hateful, bigoted individuals, they were in fact grossly misrepresented. The brothers say they live each day looking to shine Christ’s light and love everyone, including those who do not share their beliefs. Furthermore, they do not discriminate against those with whom they disagree.
Falwell read excerpts from a statement that the brothers had released to the media: “With all of the grotesque things that can be seen and heard on television today, you would think there would be room for two twin brothers who are faithful to our families, committed to biblical principals, and dedicated professionals. If our faith costs us a television show, then so be it.”
The brothers were met with loud cheers as Falwell asked the crowd to stand and show their support.
Gov. Jindal also recognized the brothers in his keynote address, referring to the news as an example of intolerance toward religious expression.
|The Hon. Lacey Putney was presented an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree.|
Falwell recognized two individuals for their part in upholding American values: Gov. Jindal and the Hon. Lacey Putney. The university presented each with an honorary Doctor of Humanities degree. He described them as “two great Americans who have proven themselves faithful with the opportunity afforded to them by God and by this country.”
Putney, who Falwell called “a legendary leader in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” served in the Virginia House of Delegates from 1962 to 2013, making him the longest-serving member in the history of the Virginia General Assembly. During this time he won 26 consecutive elections.
He played an indispensable role in many of the most important decisions made in Virginia over the last half century, including the creation of the Virginia Tuition Assistance Grant (VTAG) program and the six-year capital outlay planning process to help maintain the commonwealth’s coveted AAA credit rating. Putney has served as Speaker of the House of Delegates, as a member of the House Committees on Rules and on Privileges and Elections, and was Chairman of the House Committee on Appropriations.
Falwell noted that Putney has earned bipartisan respect for his dedication to Virginia’s citizens and legislative leadership, “an achievement that is almost unheard of in the polarized political climate of today.
“Lacey Putney maintained a reputation as a deeply committed, selfless public servant who was entirely committed to the well-being of his constituents and their communities,” Falwell said. “His illustrious career has made our state a better place to live and to work, and his service is without parallel.”
Putney spoke briefly to the crowd, saying that no honor he has ever received is equal to the one bestowed upon him by Liberty.
Jindal was introduced by Falwell as an innovative leader committed to fiscal responsibility and Christian values. The Brown University graduate and Oxford University Rhodes Scholar has worked as a consultant for Fortune 500 companies, as Secretary of the Louisiana Department of Health and Hospitals, as executive director of the National Bipartisan Commission on the Future of Medicare, as president of the University of Louisiana System, and was appointed by President George W. Bush to serve as Assistant Secretary for the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Before being elected governor in 2007, he served in the U.S. Congress.
Jindal, now in his second term as governor, is known for leading Louisiana ethics reform and eliminating taxes that deterred investment. He is also known for setting all-time employment records in the state, for instituting the statewide school choice scholarship program, and for making strides in transforming Louisiana’s health care system.
|Gov. Bobby Jindal delivers Liberty’s 41st Commencement address.|
After receiving his honorary degree, Jindal addressed the graduates, commending them for their achievements and cautioning them about the future.
He shared his own rags-to-riches story, telling the audience how his parents emigrated from India to the U.S. in search of a better life, and how he came to know Christ because of the boldness of some friends.
“The short story is this,” he explained, “I read the words of Jesus Christ and I realized that they were true. I used to think that I had found God, but I believe it is more accurate to say that He found me.”
Though the intellectual elite have pushed God out of the equation, Jindal said that doing so only pushes people further from the truth.
As liberal elitists continue to vehemently oppose Christian values, Jindal said that a “silent war” on liberty is at hand, and the implications are dire. Jindal emphasized the fact that America’s war on religious liberty is far more civil than the ones being waged in other nations where churches are being burned and Christians are being silenced, or even killed. The battle is important nonetheless.
He shared examples of how the personal expression of religion is being attacked in business, on television, and in the courts. Understanding that man is a created being, and that God — not government — grants rights, is essential for the very existence of this country, he said.
“Diversity of belief is the foundation of our law and Constitution,” Jindal added. “America does not sustain and create faith. Faith created and sustains America. America did not invent religious freedom; religious freedom invented America.”
Jindal said that those waging war on religious expression today would have Americans believe that “religious freedom means you have the freedom to worship, and that’s all … In this misbegotten and un-American conception of religious liberty,” he explained, “your rights begin and end in the pew.”
To the contrary, he declared, “We have the right to practice our faith and protect our conscience no matter where we happen to be … Our religious liberty must in no way ever be linked to the ever-changing opinions of the public. We must understand that our freedom of conscience protects all Americans of every persuasion — however those persuasions may evolve. Our liberties in America demand equal protections for all.”
Jindal urged the graduates to never see themselves as victims, though it seems that Christians are the last group against which it is acceptable to discriminate in America. He encouraged them to take hope in the fight, reminding them that, “If God is with us, who can be against us?”