In December 2023, Samford University honored 336 graduates who either earned a bachelor’s, master’s or doctoral degree during its winter commencement ceremonies.
On Saturday, Dec. 9 in the Pete Hanna Center, the ceremony recognized 319 graduates of eight of Samford’s 10 academic schools: Brock School of Business, Cumberland School of Law, Howard College of Arts and Sciences, Moffett & Sanders School of Nursing, Orlean Beeson School of Education, the School of the Arts, the School of Health Professions and the School of Public Health.
Alan Jung, dean of the School of Health Professions, provided the opening invocation. Samford President Beck A. Taylor offered the welcoming remarks and introduced the commencement speaker, J. Derek Halvorson, executive director of the Brock Barnes Center for Leadership at Covenant College.
Halvorson presented the question to graduates: “What does it mean to be successful?” Starting off a bit unusually, Halverson read the genealogies from Genesis 5, citing one man whose life ended differently than the others.
“Everyone lives for some time,” said Halverson. “Everyone has some kids. And everyone dies. Except one, Enoch.”
Halverson considered three points in Enoch's story: what Enoch was noted for, what he wasn't noted for, and what that meant for the graduates before him.
His three points included these answers:
- “Enoch walked with God. Everyone else just lived. This walking metaphor tells us a lot about what it means to follow Jesus. Walking is purposeful and methodical. We have to be taught to walk, none of us comes out of the womb knowing how. Enoch stands out for his methodical, purposeful walk with God.”
- “Enoch doesn’t get noticed for his education. He didn’t work at a fortune 500 or have a great education. He wasn’t the pastor of a megachurch. The bible doesn’t note his earthly accomplishments.”
- “So, what does that say about how the bible defines success? And how does that compare with how we define success? Genesis 5 says to us about success, God doesn’t necessarily call us to do great things. He calls us to walk with him faithfully. I’m not saying it doesn’t matter what you do. The parable of the talents tells us otherwise. It matters what you do with what God gives you. But the world’s definition of success is empty. Your value does not rest in what you accomplish. Success lies in faithful service to the God who created you.”
This year, Samford also presented two honorary degrees to Joe “Claude” Bennett ’54 and Mary Beth “Beth” Stukes.
Joe “Claude” Bennett, MD, was awarded a Doctor of the University. Bennett was not able to attend but was able to view the service live from home with his family. Bennett’s family foundation has supported Samford generously over the years, as well as other worthy causes in the Birmingham community. Bennett is an accomplished, globally renowned scholar with several prestigious awards and recognitions.
Mary Beth “Beth” Stukes received a Doctor of Humane Letters for her service to Samford. Stukes served faithfully on the Samford University Board of Trustees from 2009 through 2022 and has dedicated her life to philanthropic service. Following Stukes’ teaching career, she accepted several civic and corporate leadership roles all over Alabama. In addition to the Board of Trustees, Stukes has served on the advisory board for the School of the Arts, supported Legacy League scholarships and was a member of the Bowden Society in Samford athletics.
Stukes was incredibly grateful for this high honor. “I am quite humbled by the honor,” expressed Stukes. “My time with Samford and her people is always so fulfilling and inspirational. There’s no time like now—like the present—that we’ve ever needed an institution like Samford more. And to have a miniscule role is just a privilege and a pleasure for me.”
The graduates’ degrees were then presented by Samford Provost Mike Hardin and conferred by President Taylor.
In a separate ceremony held Dec. 1 in Hodges Chapel, 17 students graduated from Beeson Divinity School with various graduate degrees. During the ceremony and service of consecration, Gerald Hiestand, pastor of Calvary Memorial Church in Oak Park, Illinois, pointed graduates and guests to the God’s love for His people as the foundation for Christian life and ministry during his sermon.
“Before our love for God, before our love for others, before our command of the Scriptures—beneath all of that, at the very foundation of the Christian life, which is the foundation of gospel ministry, lies God’s vast, unmeasurable, unending love for us in Jesus,” Hiestand said. “And if there is one thing a gospel minister needs to know in his heart of hearts, in the core of his being, it’s how very much he or she is loved by God.”