This year, as graduation exercises for the Campbell University Divinity School unfolded, it was my turn to carry the mace, a ceremonial scepter of sorts the university considers so valuable that two security guys follow you around whenever you’re carrying it, and meet you at the door to take it away the moment the service is over.
The mace-bearer enters first as a faculty representative and stands at the front as if presiding over the exercise while the graduates file in. And that’s when the tears started trickling as I watched them come, taking note not just of the honor students who delight us with their amazing work, but also the ones whose cheerful attitudes routinely brightened our days, and especially those who had to struggle or overcome significant obstacles to achieve their goal of higher theological education.
People like David Vesper, a long-time Freewill Baptist pastor who’s somewhere in his 70s and took 6 1/2 years to complete his Master of Divinity degree (including a year out due to health issues). David’s vision isn’t the best, so his wife Roxie drove him on the several hour journey to divinity school all those years, and read countless books while he was in class. Fellow student Ralph Johnson, an African-American pastor who graduated several years ago, and his gracious wife, hosted the Vespers for overnights so they could make part of the weekly trip the night before and arrive at school more rested. David went with me to Israel twice, bringing his sons. I will never forget watching him baptize Joshua in the Jordan River.
And people like Soo Mi Lee, who grew up in South Korea and traveled to Bolivia as a missionary, but realized her theological education needed greater depth. She worked hard on her English so she could come to Campbell and dig more deeply into an understanding of scripture, the church, and theology. I was happy that the Bethany Rush Cartledge scholarship could help make it possible for her.
And people like Luci Prazeres, originally from Brazil, who struggled mightily with migraines as she doggedly pursued the foundational education she wanted to improve her ministry — in an unpaid position down in Robbins, NC. She and her husband worked hard and sacrificed much, while raising two young daughters, so Luci could learn and grow and mature in ministry.
It is customary at Campbell for a loved one to bring each graduate’s hood forward as they step to the stage to receive it, and for student prayer partners or other friends to stand in support as students receive their degrees. Watching the process as men and women from their 20s to their 70s came across the stage, white and black and Hispanic and Asian, Baptist and Methodist and Pentecostal and more — how could I not let a tear fall in their honor?
I can’t even write about it with dry eyes. Joyous pride in the accomplishments of others can do that to you.
As colleges and graduate schools all over fill Mothers’ Day weekend with pomp and circumstance, I predict an outbreak of happy tears — and as far as I’m concerned, that’s just as it should be.