Making History

What an Amazing Day! 

Fifty years after the first graduating class received their diplomas on the front lawn of Weaver Hall, the University of Mobile Class of 2017 followed in their footsteps on May 13, becoming the first graduating class in 41 years to celebrate commencement on the campus where they earned their degrees.

Members of the charter class of 1967 were in attendance for the historic ceremony, along with more than 3,500 family and friends of the new UM graduates.

It was an event that truly fit the theme of this first year of a new administration: “A New Day, A New Journey.”

More than 3,000 chairs placed on the just-completed Dr. and Mrs. Fred Lackey Great Commission Lawn were filled as family and friends arrived, then it was standing room only beneath the live oak trees framing the lawn.

As graduates recessed out after the ceremony, they touched the new Great Commission Globe fountain in the center of the lawn. This new “Great Commission Tradition” signifies graduates’ commitment to serve others and spread the message and love of Jesus Christ as they fulfill their professional calling in the world.

UM President Timothy L. Smith gave the commencement address, encouraging graduates to “remain focused on Christ.”

“You will never have to worry about going at this alone because, if you fulfill the Great Commission calling in your life in accordance to His will, we are reminded in the last few words of the Great Commission in Matthew 28:20 that He will be with you always and to the end of the age,” Smith said.

A video featuring graduation highlights is posted at

Honored Guests

Members of the first graduating class of 1967 were honored guests at the Saturday morning graduation. About 30 members of the original class of 67 graduates had gathered on campus the night before to celebrate their 50th reunion.

“Sitting with my ’67 classmates at the first graduation on the lawn in 41 years brought back my memory of our graduation on this same lawn in May 1967. Ours was a much smaller crowd,” said Tom Holmes, one of the reunion organizers. “The scale, preparations and execution of the graduation ceremony were so impressive.

“I am proud of what the university has become. It will always hold a special place in my heart for the amazing people – classmates, faculty, staff and others – who made a difference in my life. I look forward to many future opportunities to celebrate UM,” Holmes said.

The previous night’s festivities had included remembrances of their college years, including the time an alarm clock was secretly placed in a classmate’s purse and set to go off when it was time for the chapel speaker to be finished.

Weaver Awards

The university presented its two top awards to graduates who exemplify the mission of the university. The Weaver awards are given to the top male and female graduating students and are chosen by vote of the faculty. Selection is based on scholarship, Christian character, leadership and service.

The 2017 Annie Boyd Parker Weaver Excellence Award was presented to Kelli Rae Brown of Jasper, AL. Brown received the Bachelor of Science in biology in the College of Arts and Sciences. She was also awarded the College of Arts and Sciences Achievement Award, the area award in biology, graduated summa cum laude and was an Honors graduate with thesis.

In presenting the award, UM Board of Trustees Chairman Deborah Nelson said Brown is described by her professors “as having a passion for science, a tremendous work ethic, and a breadth of knowledge in the liberal arts that few can match.”

Brown was also praised for her work as a science tutor and peer leader who freely gives of her time to help others learn. A science professor described her as “one of the kindest and most generous human beings,” Nelson said.

The 2017 William K. Weaver Jr. Excellence Award was presented to Joshua Thomas Hill of Huntsville, AL. Hill received the Bachelor of Science in worship leadership in the Alabama School of the Arts.

Nelson said faculty described Hill as “a young intellectual who is one of the finest scholarly musicians we have ever had the experience of educating at University of Mobile.”

Faculty noted Hill is extremely successful as both an instrumentalist and vocalist, travelled with RamCorps and Voices of Mobile, is a student arranger, Jazz Band vocalist, song writer and composer, worship leader, and also serves as worship associate at Government Street Baptist Church in Mobile.

About the Author

Kathy Dean

Kathy Dean uses her passion for storytelling and "playing with words" to share the stories of people, place and purpose that make the University of Mobile unique. As associate vice president for university communications, she manages media relations, edits the TorchLight alumni magazine, and oversees university communications. A former award-winning journalist, she is a two-time recipient of the Baptist Communicators Association grand prize for feature writing. Kathy and her husband, Chuck, live with three extremely loud miniature schnauzers.