Marvin Rawls’ booming voice has been heard — loud and clear — on campus since his freshman year in the fall of 2016 as an undergrad majoring in music. Nearly seven years later, his final performance as a grad student was perhaps his most memorable.
Rawls’ seven-minute rendition of CeCe Winans’ classic “Goodness of God” brought the crowd gathered inside Hobson Performance Center — there for the Divinity School’s hooding and commencement service — to its feet. Minutes later, Rawls was one of 16 students to receive their Master of Divinity degree. Twenty-six students in all earned degrees Friday night, one Master in Faith and Leadership Formation, five Masters of Arts in Christian Ministry and four Doctor of Ministry degrees.
Divinity School Dean Dr. Andrew Wakefield called the night a time to rejoice and celebrate “accomplishments, perseverance, growth, spiritual formation and movement.”
“Thank you for allowing us the privilege to walk with you in your journey to be part of your call to God to follow God’s call in obedience,” Wakefield told the graduates. “Thank you for sharing your gifts and your talents with us. Thank you for being Christ-centered, Bible-based and ministry-focused graduates of this Divinity School.”
The Rev. Jayne Hugo Davis, associate pastor for discipleship at First Baptist Church in Wilmington and a 2004 Master of Divinity graduate from Campbell Divinity, returned to campus nearly 20 years after her own commencement to share her journey of how “a little girl from the Bronx became a Baptist preacher in the South.”
“God has a sense of humor,” said Davis, whose son Christian is also a Campbell Divinity graduate. “God pointed me in the direction of vocational ministry with me responding each step of the way with very clear directives of what I would and would not do. I told God I would not be Baptist. I would not work in the local church. I would not focus on Christian education. Those were my only three requirements. So, in case you missed my title …”
The lesson, she said, was never tell God what you will never do.
“Wherever you are, be fully present. Don’t be too quick to leave. Be curious about the doors that open around you. And allow God to shape and reshape along the way.”
Davis began her commencement address with the story of a bracelet — seven diamonds set in a gold band — her mother wanted her to have to remind her that her six siblings would always be there for her. Living in the Bronx, her home was the target of a few burglaries, so her mother hid the bracelet and left it in the pocket of a raincoat at one point. When the hall closet was cleaned out and the coat taken to the thrift store, Davis said the bracelet was lost for good.
She recalled Psalm 37 — Trust in the Lord and do good; dwell in the land and enjoy safe pasture. Delight yourself in the Lord and he will give you the desires of your heart. He will make your righteousness shine like the dawn, the justice of your cause like the noonday sun. The passage, she said, is an anchor to stay positive even when life is challenging — even when family heirlooms are lost for good.
“‘Delight’ is a good word that we don’t use often enough,” she said. “I’m convinced that one of the most important ways you can delight in God is to believe the truth that God delights in you, just as you are. You are the beloved child of God. God doesn’t love you because you chose to go into ministry. God loves you, period.”
Davis would end her positive message to the graduates with a happy ending to the bracelet story. It was found years later. “It had not been lost or given away,” she said. But like the good that’s all around us that we don’t always see, “it had just been hidden from sight.”
Kettia Florvilus, a 2011 graduate of the University of Florida and a Master of Divinity graduate Friday night, was presented the Russell T. Cherry Jr. Biblical Studies Award by Wakefield. Florvilus was the only student Friday to graduate with Languages — having successfully completed nine or more semester hours of study in Biblical languages — and with Distinction — earning a 3.8 grade point average or higher.
“Kettia has blessed this school with her winsome spirit, her passion for excellence and her love for learning,” Wakefield said.
- Wakefield, on a few occasions, shared Friday that his staff and other Campbell cabinet members have to deal with his propensity to share puns and other jokes. But President J. Bradley Creed stole Wakefield’s thunder with the line, “In all of these ceremonies, we recognize those who graduate Summa Cum Laude, Magna Cum Laude, but there’s a special and resounding note of ‘thank-the-lawdy’ in this service.”
- Charlie Price has been a fixture at Campbell University for decades; his current role with the University as audio visual manager. Price, a 1987 Campbell graduate, delivered the invocation to start commencement Friday and later earned his Master of Arts in Christian Ministry degree.
- Wakefield noted two retirements in the Divinity School — administrative assistant Tere Murphy, who began her career at Campbell in 2008, and Dr. Lydia Hoyle, associate professor of church history who’s been with Campbell since 2003.
- Dr. Mark Hammond, vice president for academic affairs and provost, was recognized by Wakefield for attending his final Divinity graduation in his current role. Hammond will step down as provost this summer to begin a faculty position with the School of Osteopathic Medicine.