Abilene Christian University’s Moody Coliseum filled with faculty, students and their family and friends Saturday as the university bid farewell to its graduating class of 659. Graduates of the College of Biblical Studies, College of Business Administration, College of Education and Human Services, and the Patty Hanks Shelton School of Nursing joined in the 11 a.m. commencement ceremony; graduating seniors from the College of Arts and Sciences participated in the 3 p.m. ceremony.
Dr. Royce Money, president of ACU, emceed the two ceremonies. Throughout the event, Money highlighted several members of the ACU community who have left a lasting impression on the university, one of whom was Dr. Dwayne VanRheenan, former provost. The university selected Dr. Jeanine Varner, former dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, to fill the role.
“I can tell you that because of his tenure here and because of his leadership we have a better institution,” Money said. “Approximately two-thirds of our current faculty were hired by him.”
Dr. John Willis, Burton Coffman Chair of Biblical Studies and professor of Old Testament, blessed and encouraged the graduating students as the event’s keynote speaker. Willis has taught ACU students for more than 30 years; he has received several teaching awards including ACU Teacher of the Year in 1973, and the E.W. McMillan Distinguished Professorship in 1987.
“Whatever is holding you back, or keeping you down, or making you doubt, this day is a day to be very strong and courageous,” Willis said. “Today is a day to forget what’s behind, and to strain forward, to what lies ahead.”
Charles Gaines, junior social justice major from Cedar Hill, also addressed the students in attendance, encouraging them and assuring them he would further the legacy they left behind.
“I honestly believe you are the future generations that are going to change the world,” Gaines said. “I could not be more proud of who we are, and I very much look forward to who we will become.”