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Liberty University honors over 6,000 military graduates at special ceremony

Graduates from the United States Marine Corps standing during the Armed Forces Medley (Photo by KJ Jugar)

Gathered in the sanctuary of Thomas Road Baptist Church, members of Liberty University’s Class of 2024 who have military ties were celebrated during Thursday morning’s Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony. In all, 6,006 military students, including 2,162 active duty service members and 2,536 military spouses, will have their degrees conferred this weekend.

Lt. Col. Richard Diddams, U.S. Marine Corps, Ret., served as the emcee for the ceremony, the twelfth of what has become a longstanding tradition during Liberty’s annual Commencement. Diddams is Liberty’s vice provost of engineering and technology & professional engagement and the interim dean for the School of Business.

“Liberty University recognizes your tremendous accomplishment,” Diddams said in opening the ceremony. “Your success is due to you accepting a challenge to better yourself. When faced with the choice of an educational pursuit or a full, overflowing military life, you chose both. That deserves a moment of recognition. Your choice is an uncommon and admirable path which will help you in being a better leader, servant, and man or woman who can accomplish your mission while caring for your troops and others.”

“Liberty University is a strong supporter of our military, and it is our desire that you will take the knowledge, values, and skills you’ve developed and pay it forward and impact those around you,” he added. “I challenge you to lead by example and with a moral purpose.”

Liberty President Dondi Costin (Photo by Ryan Anderson)

Dressed in his Air Force uniform as a retired Major General following 32 years of commissioned service, Liberty President Dondi Costin acknowledged the sense of camaraderie he felt with the servicemen and women and their loved ones in the room. He reflected on his own journey of studying through Liberty’s distance learning program (now known as Liberty University Online Programs) while serving in the military, noting the university’s longstanding dedication to helping military members further their education, whether in active duty, in the reserves, or as a veteran.

“I will find myself in all kinds of rooms and stadiums and other places in the next three days, but I can promise you this: this will be the most honorable, most prideful room I will be in,” Costin said. “Well before there was an internet, Liberty University had on its mind that we were going to do whatever we can to make sure that military members and their spouses all over the world have an opportunity to advance their education, and thus advance their careers, because we love God and we love country, and that has never changed.”

Costin expressed his admiration for the graduates, congratulating them on completing a college degree with the added challenges of military service before or during their studies.

(Photo by KJ Jugar)

“I stand here today in gratitude for every single one of you who have gone the extra mile, who’ve done the hard things, who have set a goal and showed your children and your colleagues that yes, you can set a goal to do something that’s difficult,” Costin said. “You accomplished it not by yourself; you accomplished it because of others around you, those family members that I see so gloriously in the back, and others who prayed for you and stood by you. When you cross that Commencement stage sometime this weekend, it will be a group accomplishment.

“Thank you for showing the rest of the world that when you want something bad enough, and you trust God hard enough and you fight long enough, that you can accomplish everything that God wants you to do,” he added. “That’s what Champions for Christ do, and you have done it.”

Before the keynote speeches from Steven and Delta Keith, U.S. Navy (ret.) Chief Musician E. Daryl Duff, an assistant professor in Liberty’s School of Music, sang the national anthem as well as “A Hero For Today.” The crowd was led in the Pledge of Allegiance, and graduates stood when their official branch songs were played during the Armed Forces Medley.

Chaplain (Col.) Steven E. Keith serves as the director of the Center for Chaplaincy at Liberty University’s John W. Rawlings School of Divinity, overseeing the center’s mission of educating and equipping over 700 current chaplain students to be Champions for Christ in secular and sacred environments. He also serves as a professor of chaplaincy and is the chaplain endorser of Liberty Baptist Fellowship, endorsing 600 chaplains to the U.S. Armed Forces. His wife, Delta, supports him in these roles and ministries after accompanying him on 13 different assignments around the globe over 30 years of service.

Delta Keith spoke to the military spouses present as one herself. (Photo by Ryan Anderson)

Delta Keith delivered her speech to the many military spouses in the room, beginning by saying that she knows from firsthand experience that the role of military spouse is not an easy one.

“We are a unique ‘family’ because we have a spouse with a unique commitment, a call for a job to their country with a mission that demands them 24/7,” she said. “They are willing to give the ultimate sacrifice for their country, and you are the behind-the-scenes support for their calling to that mission. You must sacrifice too. Your job is not easy.”

But she encouraged them with the knowledge that they can lean on God to help understand and thrive in the midst of the many location changes and family struggles.

“In many ways, being a military spouse was hard, but what helped me through those hardships was my faith and trust in the Lord,” she said. “Our faith is tested. We have to trust God has the place where he wants us to go, and then shine.”

With these new degrees, Delta Keith said, the military spouses in the Class of 2024 are even stronger than they were before, and they can leverage their careers for God’s glory.

“Your toolbox has grown now that you have this new degree,” she said. “What may have seemed like the impossible may now be possible. Continue to put your trust in the Lord. Look for the opportunities before you make the most of every job.”

Chaplain (Col.) Steven E. Keith spoke to the service members and veterans who are graduating. (Photo by KJ Jugar)

As he began his address, Steven Keith said he was proud, but not shocked, that the military graduates before him have made it to this point.

“You made it. I’ll be honest, we’re not surprised … (because) we know you’re military. You’re disciplined. You understand what it takes to get the mission done.”

He outlined a four-point guide to being a Champion for Christ, relating each point to concepts of military service: sign up, be all in, know how to take and follow orders, and make the most of one’s God-given time in life. After “signing up” for a life of following Jesus through His salvation, a Champion for Christ has to dedicate themselves to wholehearted service of the Lord and be willing to follow His plan for the rest of their lives, he said. He cited James 4:14, which says life is just a “vapor” that exists for a few moments before vanishing and encouraged those in attendance to pursue The Great Commandment and the Great Commission with the moments ahead of them.

“I pray that you will be a Champion for Christ, not just a graduate of Liberty University, but a Champion for Christ,” he said. “Redeem the time. Use your vapor for the Lord Jesus.”

Each military graduate was presented with a commemorative coin. (Photo by Jessie Jordan)

As is tradition at the ceremony, each graduate received a commemorative coin made specifically for our service members, veterans, and military spouses in mind. Military veterans who now work in Liberty’s faculty and administration participated in the coin presentation.

Several personal testimonials were shared on the screens during the ceremony. Many of the graduates told stories about their college journey and the support they received from Liberty as a servicemember.

While still a Master Sergeant in the Air Force, Lorenzo Sanchez (’24) earned his Doctor of Business Administration – Supply Chain Management and Logistics.

“While I had doubts due to my full-time commitments in the Air Force, I was placed on a path where I had amazing mentors and peers who enabled and supported me to complete what I began three years ago,” he said. “Furthermore, LU was very helpful and accommodating of my military duties, which allowed me to succeed in all of my classes. During these three years, I learned that with discipline and consistent prayer, anything is achievable as long as you put your mind to it.”

Shauna Brucker, U.S. Air Force SMSgt (Ret.), earned her Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling. Despite having a medical background, she felt a calling to pursue pastoral counseling after receiving counsel from her own pastor.

“(Liberty) had such a broad array of degree programs and was extremely military friendly (in allowing) my Veteran Affairs (VA) education benefits,” she said. “My two-year program was rewarding, and I found my classes and professors quite enriching. I appreciated that the curriculum was relevant for today and enjoyable to read, and I gained the knowledge I needed.”

Thursday morning’s ceremony was one of the first of many events planned for Liberty’s 51st Commencement, held Thursday through Saturday. Liberty is celebrating over 29,000 graduates in the Class of 2024. The university is holding 28 individual degree presentation ceremonies. The Main Commencement Ceremony, open to all graduates and guests, will be held on Friday at 7 p.m. in Williams Stadium. The university estimates about 60,000 graduates, family, and friends will flock to Liberty Mountain over the three-day period. All degree ceremonies and the main ceremony will be streamed live from the Commencement website.

Watch the full Military Graduate Recognition Ceremony below:

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