FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary’s fall commencement service, Dec. 13, saw 167 students receive degrees for undergraduate, master’s, and doctoral studies. The ceremony, which took place in MacGorman Chapel, also included the singing of hymns, reading of Scripture, and a commission offered by Southwestern President Paige Patterson.

Patterson derived his challenge and charge to graduates from Luke 2:40, which presents three declarations about Jesus that Patterson said should characterize the graduates. The first was to be strong in the spirit.

“We live in a day of great strengths,” Patterson said. “There are military strengths that seem to increase day by day. We have strength in economy, or at least on some days we do. We have strength in intellectual prowess. But in fact we have greater weakness in the world today than we have ever known.

“We live in a world of continual, ongoing, unmedicated weakness. And my first admonition to you today, young people, is that you follow in the path of Jesus by being strong in the spirit. And in that strength of spirit, you witness to a weakened generation that is struggling with their hands out of the water, reaching for whatever help can come to them in the time of their near demise.”

Patterson’s second charge was the second declaration about Jesus: be filled with wisdom, which Patterson said stems from spending time reading God’s Word.

“Don't be so busy that you don't have that time with the Lord,” Patterson said, “because it is in that time that you spend with God that wisdom is brought back to your mind that you've read in the Word of God. And it is applied to every life situation, first your own and then to that of those who so desperately need to hear.”

Scripture’s third declaration of Jesus was, “the grace of God was upon him,” Patterson said.

“You cannot succeed on your own. Many graduates going out from institutions all over this country during these days are out there to be better bankers and better lawyers and better physicians, and much of what they do can be done on the basis of their studies that they have accomplished.

“The studies that you have accomplished will doubtless be of assistance to you … but let it be known to you that your task transcends the physical realm. Your task, unlike all of theirs, is a task that reaches into the heart of a man—to that part of a man that cannot be helped by anything physical. If there is help to be garnered from you—and ultimately you are the only one that can really help—then it must be because the grace of God is upon you.”

Tim Stobaugh, one of 17 graduates from the College at Southwestern, said he walked the stage solely for his family.

“My daughter, wife and son were my cheerleaders,” Stobaugh said. “I didn’t want to walk across the stage, because it seems like a pride thing, but my family would have torn my head off if I didn’t.”

Prior to graduation, Stobaugh said, “I’m not going to do it for anybody else other than them.”

Stobaugh, who came to Southwestern in 2006 after spending more than 20 years as a cattle and dairy farmer, says Southwestern helped broaden his horizon.

“I had tunnel vision,” Stobaugh says. “If it didn’t have cattle or dairy farming, I didn’t see it. But now I can. It’s been a great ride.”

Regarding what he will miss about Southwestern, Stobaugh says, “It’s not so much about the academics as it is about the relationships.

“Walking through Fort Worth Hall, there was an open door policy, so you could just go in and have a conversation with a professor. [And] at what other university campus can you just run into the president of the university and talk to him and his dog about anything?”

Patterson’s final words to graduates came in the form of a prayer. 

“I want to pray for them today that wisdom might accompany their every step,” he said. “That they would be strong in the spirit. And I pray, Lord, that they may always be known to all the public as men and women upon whom the grace of God is residing.”