Excited conversation from visiting friends and family hushed as students donning cap and gown filed down the aisles toward their reserved seats in the Crowne Centre auditorium. Attendees’ heads bobbed, straining to see their graduate walk past. The next shared moments were about honor, recognition, and remembrance of the last few years.
During the 48th Commencement Ceremonies, Pensacola Christian College conferred over 850 degrees to undergraduate and graduate students representing 47 U.S. states and 25 foreign countries or territories. During the final week of classes, many students were granted honors and awards in special chapel services, culminating in the ceremonies that mark the end of the PCC journey and the beginning of another.
“Courage is doing what’s right even when you have a good reason to be afraid.”
As a Christian academic institution, PCC chooses to express respect and appreciation to those who have displayed exceptional leadership and faithful service to the Lord in their ministry and vocation. This year, Tim Butler received an Honorary Doctor of Divinity, and Michael Farris received an Honorary Doctor of Laws. Farris, who gave the Commencement address, challenged graduates to go into their career and ministry with courage. “You’re never going to need courage in a vacuum. You will only need courage when you face a realistic danger or challenge,” Farris shared. “And in light of the growing audacity of the evil of the age in which we live, I guarantee you that you’re going to face such dangers and challenges, at least so long as you identify with our Lord Jesus Christ. Courage is not fearlessness. Courage is doing what’s right even when you have a good reason to be afraid.”
Friday Commencement Ceremony
On Friday evening, May 12, the undergraduate and graduate nursing students were the first to cross the stage during the Nursing Commencement Ceremony. Traditionally, one nursing graduate is presented the Nursing Excellence Award for best representing academic achievement, the integration of Christian principles, and the high standards of the nursing profession among the nursing class. Kayla Doherty (Nursing ’23) was honored with the award.
Before the procession, each graduating nursing student was presented with a pin—pinned to their regalia by a close friend or family member—in recognition of the services, sacrifice, and dedication required of those in the profession. “The pin has come to symbolize the initiation of graduates into the nursing profession,” said Dr. Denise McCollim, dean of arts and sciences. “Like other nursing schools, PCC has its own unique pin. If you look closely at PCC’s nursing pin, you’ll see the words ‘strength,’ ‘truth,’ and ‘beauty’ just as they appear on the college seal.”
“To experience this momentous moment together—it was really special.”
Each graduate was presented with a lamp, symbolic of the nursing profession, that pays tribute to Florence Nightingale, who made history along with 38 other female nurses by tending to the needs of sick and wounded soldiers during the Crimean War. At the close of the ceremony, nursing faculty and the new alumni collectively recited the Florence Nightingale pledge (written in 1893 in an attempt to provide a code of ethics to guide graduates in their nursing work), committing themselves to service in the nursing profession.
For many, taking in the moments of the ceremony is something they’ll hang on to for a long time. “Frankly, I didn’t think it would mean that much, but, man, just seeing all of us after we’ve come so far—” said Julie Kahn (Nursing ’23). “We did [the] nursing [program] through Covid, and it was pretty tough. There were a lot of hard times, and many tears, but to have that camaraderie and experience this momentous moment together—it was really special.”
Saturday Commencement Ceremonies
Graduating students in Arts and Sciences, Biblical Studies, Seminary, Professional Studies, Visual and Performing Arts, and Graduate Studies were honored during two separate ceremonies on Saturday, May 13.
It is tradition that two outstanding graduates are awarded the President’s Citation of Merit. These graduates embody the mission and purpose of the College through their personal character and values. This year, Andrew Faulkner (Management ’23) and Olivia Bierbrodt (Music: Vocal Emphasis ’23) were each honored with this coveted award.
During both ceremonies, College President Troy Shoemaker drew attention to empty seats at the front of the auditorium, each with regalia and bouquets. In Memoriam Bachelor of Arts degrees were given to Carolyn Soule and Jadon Goins, and In Memoriam Bachelor of Science degrees were given to Isaiah Winkley and Eben Statt. These students unexpectedly went home to be with the Lord in the fall 2022 and spring 2023 semesters. “The entire PCC family expresses our condolences and our sympathy,” said Dr. Shoemaker, addressing the families. “We hope you’ll accept this with the acknowledgement of your [children’s] achievement through college. I know you were proud of them, and we were too.”
Hearing From the Graduates
After each ceremony, graduates made their way across campus to meet with friends, family, and classmates to celebrate their achievement and remember the time together by presenting small gifts and snapping a quick photo.
Debra Dillman (Missions ’23) will be getting married in July and is excited to then move to Guam with her new husband to serve as missionaries and teach at a Christian school. “I will miss the Work Assistance Program and the community [I’ve found] there,” she said, having worked in Sports Center. “We were all trying to attend school while also earning funding to stay in school, but we had each other to rely on and talk to for advice or help with classes. It’s also a good reminder that there are some that’ll just lift you up spiritually and say, ‘it’ll be okay’—especially our supervisors. They were very good about lifting us up in prayer and walking with us spiritually.”
Because she knew she wanted to study science from a Christian perspective, Jacqueline Pinkerton (Chemistry ’23) chose to attend PCC. “I didn’t want my undergrad experience in college to be something that would challenge my faith,” she said. Some of her favorite moments were during the start of a new semester. “Opening Convocation is one of my favorite college events. They are super intentional about digging into God’s Word. It’s also a time of the semester when everyone is full of energy and excitement.”
“Having an environment like PCC that guided me and built me up was precisely what I needed, when I needed it.”
Looking back over his classroom experience, Maxwell Weaver (Pre-Law ’23) is thankful for the faculty at PCC. “I know that Dr. Shoemaker says how much teachers love us students all the time, but his description is nothing compared to seeing it in action,” he shared. “In making my final decision on what to do after graduation, I was able to ask five different teachers that I had studied under, and they all gave advice and guidance that aligned with one another and where I believed I needed to be. This was especially valuable to me as someone with a young faith who received assurance of salvation at the age of 17. Having an environment like PCC that guided me and built me up was precisely what I needed, when I needed it.”
While graduating and moving on is an exciting thing worth celebrating, many realize there will be parts of the college experience they’ll miss in the years ahead. “Living in proximity with all my classmates and friends will be something I miss, as we will be the first full graduating class of our specific [program of study],” said David Edwards (Cybersecurity ’23). “We all grew close throughout this experience, and I will miss being able to hang out so frequently.”
With tassels turned and only the future ahead, these graduates will go on to follow after God’s calling in their lives. “I was so excited to watch all my friends graduate!” said Brenna Foster (Early Childhood ’22), who returned to walk as a December graduate. “I’ve seen how hard all of us have worked over the years, and I’m thrilled to see how the Lord uses them all.”
Congratulations, Class of 2023! You’ve come this far and, with the Lord’s blessing, you’ll only continue further. May God bring you confidently into the next chapter of your lives.