September 8, 2023 : By Christian Shields - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Grammy Award-winning musician and Liberty University alumnus Toby McKeehan (’88) — better known as “TobyMac” — returned to campus on Friday to reminisce about his time as a student and provide advice to those sitting in the same seats he once sat in.
Through his time as both a member of the Christian rock and hip-hop group dc Talk (which formed at Liberty) and launching his solo career, McKeehan has continued to grow his platform and fan base. The singer-songwriter has earned seven Grammy Awards and continues to release new music; his latest album, “Life After Death,” came out last year.
During a Q&A session with Chancellor Jonathan Falwell, a friend and former classmate, McKeehan shared some fond memories from his college years as well as the role that Liberty played in launching his successful career.
“(Liberty) is so beautiful now. Congratulations to (the students) for coming to a wonderful university. Welcome,” McKeehan said to the freshmen in the crowd. “It’s mindboggling what a place it has become, and it’s attributed to (Liberty’s leadership). Thank you for pouring into students.”
McKeehan originally attended Jacksonville University on a golf scholarship but said he transferred to Liberty his sophomore year after convincing Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell (with the help of his former neighbor Joe Gibbs) to start a golf team. Despite studying business as a student and playing golf through college, he soon found his true passion in making music.
“I loved it here,” he said. (Liberty) changed my life. I didn’t know what I wanted to do. I had plans, but God had other plans.”
While attending Liberty, McKeehan started dc Talk alongside classmates Michael Tait and Kevin Max. He shared that Dr. Falwell contributed heavily to the band’s success on campus and after graduation, providing venues for performances and even writing letters recommending the group to churches and youth groups in Nashville.
“One of our first gigs was in Dr. Falwell’s backyard,” McKeehan said. “That’s kind of crazy to think about. He obviously was a visionary, but he even had vision for us. He got what we were doing. He understood. He said, ‘I don’t know what this is, but I know they’re talking about my King. And if they’re talking about my King, it needs to be out there.’ So, he helped us get out there.”
“(Falwell) saw the bigger picture,” he added. “He knew (Christian hip-hop and rock music) wasn’t his language, but he knew it was truth.”
He spoke about his individual work following the dissolution of dc Talk, sharing how he not only continues to make music of his own but also supports upcoming artists through his record company Gotee Records. In 2021, McKeehan signed Liberty student (now alumnus) Joseph O’Brien to the label.
McKeehan, who suffered the loss of his oldest child, Truett, in 2019, shared about dealing with the trials of life and the importance of maintaining a strong relationship with God. There was a time in his grief when he couldn’t pick up His Bible, he said, but he eventually did.
“I’ve never been sorry that I knocked on God’s door, and you won’t be either” he said, referencing Psalm 9:9-10. “No matter how hard your life is right now and who’s hurting you, knock on God’s door. You’ll never regret it.”
McKeehan told the students to use their gifts and talents for the sake of the Gospel instead of “self-indulgence.”
“One of the things I’ve learned along the way, which we know, is we (as Christians) are servants. If we dare call Him our Lord, there’s only one position for us, and that is (as) His servants. A servant’s job is to wait on the request of the Lord.”
As someone who found success in both his career and personal life by waiting on God’s timing, McKeehan encouraged students to follow God’s leading. Although he originally planned on playing golf professionally or pursuing a career in real estate like his father, through placing his faith in God, McKeehan found success behind the microphone. He urged the next generation of Liberty students to trust God to do the same in their lives.
“For all you guys here, you have a chance right now. This could be a pivotal moment in your life like it was for me. Look for the doors that God opens,” he said.
He concluded his time on stage by urging students to follow the apostle Paul’s example of living a life that makes people around you curious about the Gospel.
“Wherever you go, whatever you do, make them curious,” McKeehan said.