May 12, 2023 : By Ryan Klinker - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Standing in front of Liberty University’s 50th graduating class, the Class of 2023, world-renowned evangelist and Samaritan’s Purse President Franklin Graham charged them with the mission of shining as beacons of God’s light and truth as they use their degrees as Champions for Christ.
This weekend’s Commencement is one of the largest in school history with an estimated crowd of 60,000 visiting campus, including graduates, family members, and friends. More than 28,000* degrees are being conferred, and over 10,000 graduates were registered to participate in the on-campus ceremonies held Thursday through Saturday. Over 80 percent (23,762) of the graduating class earned their degrees through Liberty University Online Programs.
The university conferred 1,325 associate degrees, 11,242 bachelor’s degrees, 1,901graduate certificates, 10,602 master’s degrees, 2,439 doctoral degrees, and 1,200 Liberty Online Academy high school diplomas this year. Liberty University College of Osteopathic Medicine celebrated 148 graduates, and Liberty’s School of Law awarded 92 juris doctorates.
Liberty’s Wind Symphony played the processional fanfare as graduates made their way into Williams Stadium, including a grand processional led by Liberty co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns. LU Praise, Liberty’s premier gospel choir, and the Liberty Worship Collective led the crowd in worship throughout the ceremony.
In introducing Interim President Jerry Prevo, Chancellor and Campus Pastor Jonathan Falwell thanked Prevo for his tenure as president over the recent years.
“We want to celebrate someone who for the last two and a half years has been a stalwart leader on this campus, someone who has made an indelible mark on what Liberty University has been, is, and will forever be,” Falwell said.
Prevo took time to recognize and celebrate the people groups present in person or in spirit at Commencement, including active duty and military veterans and all mothers in attendance leading up to Mother’s Day in two days. He noted that this year has been yet another time of successes for Liberty in athletics and academics, and he took time to thank the many students who have served others throughout the school year with Christian Community Service (CSER), LU Serve, Serve Lynchburg, and Liberty’s efforts to serve those around the country and the world. There was a moment of silence for the 11 graduates honored with posthumous degrees.
“You are an extraordinary group, an exciting group of students, and I believe that you are going to be world-changers as you leave this place,” Prevo said. “As you leave Liberty with your diploma in hand, you’re going to be moving on to make your dreams come true as Champions for Christ, and I know that you’re going to be successful.”
Prevo added that this year marked Liberty’s highest enrollment between its online and resident programs with over 130,000 students, and he attributed it to the idea that Liberty is “a university that has an unwavering commitment to its biblical foundation and mission and does not apologize for its biblical stand on social issues.”
Being that Liberty is a Christian university, Prevo presented the Gospel to all in attendance, something he does at every opportunity.
“Tonight, I would be remiss if I did not tell you about our great God; a God that so loved this world that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in Him shall not perish but have everlasting life,” he said. “Whosoever means you; regardless of what you’ve done, it means you.”
Before his keynote address, Graham was presented with an honorary Doctor of Divinity.
Franklin Graham has devoted his life to meeting the needs of people around the world and sharing the Gospel of Jesus Christ. Through his work as president and CEO of Samaritan’s Purse, Franklin Graham has been instrumental in helping people impacted by major crises for more than 45 years in over 170 countries, and he has held more than 325 outreaches in 55 countries as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association.
Both Samaritan’s Purse and the BGEA have been consistent partners of Liberty University, providing internship and service opportunities for students. LU Serve Now, the university’s disaster relief initiative, regularly partners with Samaritan’s Purse for domestic and international trips. Graham delivered keynote addresses at Commencement in 2001 and Baccalaureate in 1996, and his father, Billy Graham, was the keynote speaker of Commencement in 1997.
Graham began by citing his personal connection to Liberty’s founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell, and his memories of Falwell pointing to the land on Liberty Mountain with the dream and intent to turn it into a school that would train generations of Champions for Christ.
“(Falwell) was a man who was deeply committed to God,” Graham said. “He was obedient to what God called him to do, to build this university and pastor Thomas Road Baptist Church. He was a man of incredible vision. What you see here on this beautiful campus today is God’s hand of blessing on the foundation Dr. Falwell laid some 52 years ago. God has honored his faithfulness.”
When Graham was in the place of this year’s graduates, he said he had no clue what lay ahead for his life. With no plan for himself, Graham chose to make himself available to God’s ultimate plan, and he encouraged the Class of 2023 to do the same.
In order to follow the path God has laid before them, Graham explained, graduates will have to hold tight to His truth in the midst of a culture that is overrun by lies and an unbelief in absolute truth.
“My prayer is that this class, the Class of ’23, will be known as the class that stood for truth in a world overflowing with wickedness, deception, and lies,” Graham said. “I love our country, but it’s in a downward spiral morally, spiritually, economically, politically. We’re in a freefall. Why is that? Because we’ve turned our back on God and His truth. We are to be that beacon of light, that city on a hill, standing for the Word of God and His truth in a culture of confusion and lies. The Word of God is absolute truth. Truth is not what you say it is; truth is what God says it is.”
Much like how a pilot utilizes navigational tools, Graham said Christians need to follow the directions of God’s Word in order to get to where He wants them to be.
“You want a compass to be true, you want it to be calibrated correctly,” he said. “Not only your navigation depends on it, but your life depends on it. You can be off just one degree and entirely miss your destination. We’ve got to keep our course set on Jesus Christ and not allow Satan to distract us from God’s plan and purpose for our lives. There’s only one way to God, and that’s through His Son, Jesus Christ. Keep your eyes on Him.”
Graham explained that Christians are often told to “sit down and shut up” when it comes to sharing their beliefs and God-breathed truth, but he empowered them to stand firm.
“I want you to stand up, to shout out, to lift up your voice, to lift up the truth, and live for Jesus Christ,” Graham said. “As you leave here today with this degree, use it for God’s glory. But more importantly, hold up His banner of truth to a dying, skeptical, sin-sick world. Know Him, trust Him, live for Him, lift Him up, and I hope you’ll go forth today as His Champions for Christ.”
Dr. David Jeremiah, pastor of Shadow Mountain Community Church, delivered a benediction to the Class of 2023.
Rebecca Fischer (’23), who received her master’s in executive leadership this week, described the main ceremony as “an absolutely beautiful, moving time.”
“I thought that it was an amazing time for us to be together here as a group, as a bunch of students, families, and friends. … It brought everything together,” she said. “(It was) the culmination of our faith, of our studies, of the university, the journey of everyone and really brought that together.”
“This was the absolute best way (the Class of 2023) can go out from Liberty (into the world),” added Patrick Jamison (’23), who earned his bachelor’s in cinematic arts. “For an incredible four years I’ve had here, this was the way to do it.”
Friday night’s celebration of the Class of 2023 ended with a fireworks spectacle, a first for a Liberty Commencement ceremony.
*All data reported is based on preliminary numbers for the 2022-2023 academic year.