Threatening skies prompted a return to indoors for the 109th Tabor College commencement on Saturday, May 18, 2019. Despite the weather, the spirit of affirmation and celebration was alive and well for the 143 graduates and the estimated 1,300 family members and well-wishers who came to support them in the Student Center gymnasium.
Of the 167 graduates who received degrees, 114 earned a bachelor of arts degree and one received an associate of arts degree at the Hillsboro campus; 52 graduates earned degrees through Tabor Wichita, including 24 masters, 27 bachelor degrees and one associate degree.
This year’s commencement speaker was 1994 Tabor graduate Andy Owen. Now serving as a missionary leader in Southeast Asia with Multiply, Owen continued the trend of having a Tabor alum speak at commencement.
“As most of you know, Tabor is named for a hill in Israel called Mount Tabor, which tradition says it is where Jesus was transfigured,” Owen said. “Most scholars today say the transfiguration happened somewhere else, but the sentiment behind it remains the same. Tabor is a place where we go up to meet Jesus, to see him for who he is and are transformed as a result.”
Owen and his family have been missionary leaders in Southeast Asia for 18 years. He recalled a life-transforming event following the powerful tsunami that hit the southeastern coast of Thailand and Indonesia in 2004.
“We watched the news coverage and were shocked by the devastation and the massive loss of life,” Owen recalled. “A few days later, my friend and I arranged with our local government in Chonburi, Thailand, for us to go and serve as volunteers. We arrived in a valley at a temple in the district of Digua Ba, Thailand, and what we saw in that valley would be burned in our memories forever. Over a thousand dead bodies were stacked in rows on the grounds of the temple as far as our eyes could bear to look. The bodies were starting to decompose in the open air in the hot sun.
“Our job that day was to collect DNA samples and to mark and tag them and put the bodies into body bags and then coffins for later identification,” he said. “That day, this place truly became for us the valley of the shadow of death, and it gave us great motivation and perspective to bring the light and the life of Jesus to that dead and dark valley. We went back to our central Thailand community and planted a church, which we called The Life Center. Out of that church, missionaries and national leaders have planted several generations of daughter churches throughout Southeast Asia.
“Listen graduates,” he added. “There’s no better vantage point from which to observe the hills and valleys of life than that of leadership, because leadership is God’s chosen method to influence people to God’s agenda in this world. Make no mistake, graduates, he’s asking each of you to step up and lead in the vocations and the communities that he is calling you.”
Owen concluded: “Tabor graduates of the class of 2019, don’t waste this mountaintop experience. Rise up, have no fear and go. Take your talents, your education, your intelligence and your gifts, and use them to glorify Jesus in the hills and valleys he will lead you through. Bring life, light and love to a broken world and to our country that is so divided and hyper-polarized. Don’t just be a Tabor graduate. Be an ambassador for Mount Tabor, calling people from this nation and every nation to hear the good news.”
President Jules Glanzer welcomed the graduates and their supporters, reminding the graduates they did not make it to this point on their own. “There are many people who have been with you along the way, and many of those are in the audience today,” he said.
The first presentation of the morning was the Professor Fran Jabara Leadership Awards. This year’s recipients were Naima Mexsen Murra from Torreon, Mexico, and Michael Prichard from Aurora, Colorado.
Prichard was also selected to give a graduate address. In his speech, Prichard honored his older sister for her personal achievements despite disabilities. “Abby doesn’t have a job, she never went to college, she loves puzzles, she has an IQ of 40, and a smile that rates 10 out of 10,” Prichard said. “She will need help the rest of her life, and she doesn’t know it yet. Graduates, thank God for every breath you breathe. We are called to influence, impact and inspire with gratefulness.”
Other graduating student speakers were Chad Thiessen of Houston, Texas, who offered the invocation, and Tabitha Weikle of McPherson, Kansas, who offered a graduate address. Both students were representing Tabor College Wichita & Online.
Following Owen’s address, Frank Johnson, executive vice president of academics and compliance, presented the graduating class. Hoods and diplomas were awarded. Rod Hamm, director of alumni relations, gave each graduate a Bible as a gift from the Alumni Association.
The ceremony closed by singing the Tabor College hymn, “Redeemed of God,” and with a benediction by Del Gray, professor of biblical and religious studies.