While nearly 100,000 Liberty University students enjoy the freedom to pursue an education — and their dreams — whether on campus or with the convenience of an online degree program, a special group of graduates do so while simultaneously defending that freedom.
Liberty celebrated its graduates in uniform Friday night inside the Vines Center during its annual Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony, hosted by Liberty’s Office of Military Affairs. Out of more than 15,000 graduates this year, 4,171 are military.
Dr. Ronald Hawkins, vice provost and vice president for academic affairs, welcomed the graduates, who sat according to their respective branches of the military.
Maj. Gen. Robert F. Dees, retired, associate vice president for military outreach and director of our nation’s first faith-based Institute for Military Resilience at Liberty, delivered a charge to the graduates.
He recalled his time in the military when he would refer to those serving under him as “diamonds in the rough.”
“I knew if we put a little heat on them, a little pressure, we let that cook over time in tough realistic training, they would shine; they would shine like diamonds, they would be as hard as steel and they would become priceless. So it is with each one of you,” he told the graduates. “You are in various stages in that process. In the educational arena we have put you under a little heat, a little pressure, and you have started to shine more and more. And your time here at Liberty University will only enhance your future in many, many ways. You will become priceless.”
Dees challenged the graduates to have hope and become merchants of hope. True hope, he said, is found in the “real Hope Diamond,” which he called the message of the Gospel found in John 3:16 — “For God so loved the world that He gave His only son, that whoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life.”
With that hope at heart, Dees encouraged the graduates to use their service as a platform to share it.
“When you wear the American flag on your shoulder and you enter another nation or you enter some place to help … you dispense hope, tangible, physical hope,” he said. “And now for each of you, as Liberty graduates, as Champions for Christ, you also dispense eternal hope, the hope that comes only through … Jesus Christ.”
Each graduate was given a commemorative coin in recognition of both their service to the United States and for completing their degree. The coins were presented by members of Liberty’s administration who have served in the military: Dees; Lt. Col. David R. Dinsmore, U.S. Army, retired; Maj. Robert J. Foy, U.S. Army; Capt. John A. Ezzo, U.S. Army; 1st Lt. Keith R. Anderson, U.S. Army, discharged; Capt. Ernie Rogers, U.S. Navy, retired; Lt. Darren C. Wu, U.S. Navy, discharged; Maj. Barry N. Moore, U.S. Marine Corps, retired; Capt. Todd R. Campo, U.S. Marine Corps, discharged; Brig. Gen. David L. Young, U.S. Air Force, retired; Lt. Col. Robert B. Young, U.S. Air Force, retired; and Chaplain Capt. James M. Henry, U.S. Air Force, retired.
As Friday was also Military Spouse Appreciation Day, the spouses were also recognized and presented commemorative coins.
Earlier in the day, Liberty held two special commissioning ceremonies for its Reserve Officers’ Training Corps programs in the Towns-Alumni Lecture Hall. The Liberty Eagle Battalion Army ROTC and Liberty’s U.S. Air Force ROTC Detachment 890 each celebrated their graduating cadets as they were sworn in as second lieutenants in their respective branches. As is tradition, each cadet was presented a pin signifying their rank and received their first salute.
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Army:
Jacob Arisman, infantry
Jesse Armstrong, field artillery
Richard Atkins, infantry
CJ Collins, quartermaster
Sean Dennerlein, infantry
Daniel Desmond, infantry
Andrew Dodson, infantry
Robert Gartner, engineer
Isaac Goodin, quartermaster
Timothy Hepburn, field artillery
Christopher Hungerford, engineer
Adam Lintner, engineer
Jennifer Oskam, nursing
Dylan Perry, ordinance
Jonathan Pfenninger, ordinance
Jeremiah Potter, field artillery
Lindsay Quigg, signal
Zachary Quigg, medical services
Brian Sammis, chemical
Jonathan Steel, armor
Commissioned to the rank of second lieutenant, U.S. Air Force:
Rachael Antone, nursing
Daniel Bruce, undergraduate pilot training
David Burton, undergraduate cyberspace training
Sky Lesh, undergraduate pilot training
Ryan Matis, undergraduate pilot training
Micah Uveges, undergraduate navigator training