October 26, 2023 : By Bryson Gordon - Office of Communications & Public Engagement
Liberty University formally marked the beginning of a new chapter in its leadership, praising God for His faithfulness through its 52-year history, during the official installation of its sixth president, Dr. Dondi E. Costin, Ph.D., on Thursday.
Faculty, staff, students, friends, and special guests attended the inauguration ceremony at Thomas Road Baptist Church, where figures of the university’s storied past, including co-founder Dr. Elmer Towns, and current leadership, including Chancellor Jonathan Falwell, shared in the special moment of formally charging Costin as the next leader of the university.
Honored guests included keynote speaker Dr. David Dockery, president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, and Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin. Christian music artist Michael W. Smith, executive director of Liberty’s Michael W. Smith Center for Commercial Music, led a time of praise and worship. Liberty also welcomed several state and local government officials, civic leaders, and presidents and representatives of several colleges and universities.
The Board of Trustees unanimously appointed Costin as president and Falwell as chancellor in March. Costin officially began serving as president on July 1, returning to Liberty, his alma mater, after five years as president of Charleston Southern University. Costin is a retired Major General with 36 years of service in a military career that culminated as a senior leader in the Pentagon, where he served as the 18th Air Force Chief of Chaplains. An ordained Southern Baptist minister, Costin was endorsed by the Liberty Baptist Fellowship during his 22 years as a chaplain.
Thursday’s ceremony honored Liberty’s original mission of Training Champions for Christ. In the opening remarks, Falwell said the same vision of his father, Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell, will drive the school into its new era.
“In 1971, when my dad started this university, he started it with a vision and with a passion,” he said, “… and today, in 2023, I can assure you that is still the vision, and it will remain the vision until Christ returns.”
Youngkin described Thursday’s ceremony as a celebration of a “bold, inspiring next chapter of a university that is a Champion for Christ.”
“What originally began with a mountain and a dream has ascended to an extraordinary university, and I couldn’t think of a better, more prepared leader than President Costin to stand at the helm and continue to lead that ascension,” Youngkin said. “I can attest to you that he will bring leadership, he will bring vision, he will bring energy. But most importantly, he will bring his unwavering faith in Christ Jesus to this role.”
Youngkin said he was “inspired” by the Great Commission that is happening on campus, and that as LU “blazes the path forward for us all,” that path will be one “not of convenience, but a path of conviction.”
“Today marks a moment of celebration, a moment of acceleration, and a moment of even loftier aspiration,” Youngkin said. “And we know that when we serve and lead in the name of Christ, we can do anything. Every mountain can move, every heart can be changed.”
Youngkin closed by leading the crowd in prayer for Costin and his leadership at the university.
Costin then introduced Dockery, someone he calls a mentor and his “hero.” In academics, he said Dockery could be the “dean of Christian higher education” and noted his passion for the integration of faith and learning.
In his address, Dockery challenged Liberty leadership, faculty, staff, and students with three points: to lead Christianly, teach Christianly, and live and serve Christianly in everything they do during a time where the need is high for Christian education.
“Let me urge the Liberty community on this day to use the marvelous resources the Lord has providentially provided for you to recruit the finest faculty, the most talented staff, the brightest students, and to develop challenging academic programs across the board,” Dockery said. “… Doing so in order to bring glory to our majestic triune God.”
Dockery also challenged Costin to channel the “goodwill” that surrounded him on Thursday and to “shower this goodwill back to the entire Liberty community.”
“When the goodwill ebbs and flows in the coming days as it inevitably will,” he said, “I urge you to remain thankful for the wonderful and rare privilege that you have been given, to provide leadership for such a significant institution as this one.”
After Dockery’s address, Board of Trustees Chairman Tim Lee administered the oath of the presidency to Costin. As Costin raised his right hand, he placed his left hand on a Bible held by his wife, Vickey. Lee told the history of that Bible — the first Bible Dr. Falwell owned, purchased the day after he came to accept Christ as his savior at the age of 18.
After being formally installed as president, Costin spent a large part of his presidential address recognizing and thanking everyone in his life who had prepared him for the opportunity to serve as president, starting with his late parents and going all the way through to his recent colleagues at Charleston Southern University, many of whom were in attendance at the ceremony.
“I’m a turtle on a fencepost,” Costin said, a refrain he said he’s used each time he has addressed a crowd during a ceremony that commemorated a milestone in his career. “… Because anytime you see a turtle on a fencepost, you know at least two things: that turtle didn’t get up there by himself, and that somebody had to do it.”
Costin’s new fencepost, he said, is Liberty University.
“Turtles are a dime a dozen,” he added. “But Liberty University is one in a million (fenceposts).”
Costin spoke about the numerous miracles and significance of mountains found throughout the Bible, charging faculty to continue sending forth Champions for Christ from Liberty Mountain.
“God has called us to make a difference in this world, and from this mountain we Train Champions for Christ who will not stay on this mountain but will go down the mountain and serve every single mountain of influence and valley in between.”
The president also charged himself with three tasks: to be the “minder of the mission,” the “keeper of the culture,” and the “steward of the strategy.”
“We Train Champions for Christ and have done so since 1971. We’ve done so when the culture is for us, and we’ve done so when the culture is against us. But we’ve always done so,” Costin said. “We’ve done so when there were no resources, and we’ve done so now when we have extra resources. The mission, though, never changes.”
Costin recalled a conversation he had with a guest at the Pentagon, about the lyrics to the Air Force fight song, particularly the line, “We live in fame or go down in flame.” The Marine trooper told him, “that’s a pretty incredible thing you’ve got there. You’re surrounded by a bunch of people who are so committed to this thing that they are willing to either ‘live in fame’ or ‘go down in flames’ because they’re so committed to the defense of this nation.”
That mantra, the president said, is applicable for the university today.
“Liberty University does not have the option of crashing and burning,” Costin said. “And you’ll notice in our alma mater (“Champions Arise”) that the Liberty Flames never go down. Liberty Flames rise. That’s what this day is all about, God doing amongst us what only God can do, for His glory and others’ good from Liberty Mountain.”
Costin closed by noting the difference between a coronation and an inauguration.
“Inaugurations are about saying, ‘next man up, next steward up…’” Costin said. “Coronations are about sovereigns. Ladies and gentlemen, if you remember nothing else about today, you remember this: There is only one King of the hill on this mountain, and His name is Jesus.”