Spencer reminds grads that they ‘are now entering the mission field’

Spencer reminds grads that they ‘are now entering the mission field’

May 21, 2017



 “You are now entering the mission field … I hope you will be reminded each day of your lives that you and I are not exempt from the work Jesus has for us to do. That work must define who you are. You are persons of grace and hope, and there are so many people who are hurting and desperate for a word of grace, an act of love or a message of hope. Who is going to share those things if not you?”

That was the encouragement Jack Spencer ’65 gave to members of Maryville College’s Class of 2017 during Commencement exercises on May 21. Spencer, an internationally recognized public health professional known for his expertise in disease prevention, was also presented the College’s honorary doctor of public health degree during the ceremony.

His address to the approximately 250 graduating seniors was titled “You Are Now Entering the Mission Field.”

Spencer, who graduated from Maryville College in 1965 with a bachelor’s degree in sociology, has devoted his 50-year career to improving public health programs. Since 1965, he has served in numerous capacities with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. His career has taken him around the world, actively working on AIDS, HIV, STD and TB prevention in various Global AIDS Program countries. Most recently, he worked with a pilot program to hire a specialized global health workforce to combat public health threats.

In his Commencement address, Spencer outlined three points. First, he reminded graduates to make a personal commitment to stay in touch with the special friends they have made during their time at Maryville College.

“No matter how many new friends you may make, there is something special about those with whom you have shared your college years,” he said.

In his second point, Spencer asked students to consider spending more time listening – and less time talking.

“For the longest time, I thought that the test of my value was what I had to say. So, when I was not talking, although I half-listened, with the other half of my mind I was figuring out what I would say next,” Spencer said. “To intentionally listen and analyze takes active attention, but makes it more likely that when you do speak, you will contribute more and do so with fewer words.”

Spencer’s third point – and what he emphasized as his most important point – reminded graduates that they are to be “sent ones to carry on the ministry of Christ.”

“Throughout the Bible, we discover a God who has not separated Himself from the world, but rather is a missionary God who continually sends Himself and His people forth,” Spencer said. “Our God is a sending God and we, all of us, are a sent people, and that makes you who you are. That is what defines you. At times in the church’s history, I think we’ve forgotten what it means to be a sent people. We have relied on the institution of church to share the good news rather than practicing good news sharing in our daily lives. Instead, God wants you to be the very presence of Christ to someone else.

“Maryville Class of 2017 graduates, Jesus did not die and rise from the dead so that we can just be successful in our chosen careers in business, as teachers or preachers or physicians,” Spencer continued. “I believe and want desperately for you to believe that sharing the good news means striving to be the hands, the feet and the heart of Jesus in the world.”

Degree Awarded Posthumously

During the ceremony, a bachelor of arts degree was awarded posthumously to Maryville College senior Warren Xavier Sales ’17, who passed away unexpectedly May 8. Sales, a sociology major from Douglasville, Ga., was a well-known and beloved member of the campus community, and cheers erupted from classmates when his name was read by Maryville College Vice President and Dean Dr. Barbara Wells.

The Sales family attended the ceremony and accepted the diploma on his behalf. An empty seat among the graduates, which contained his graduation gown, was also reserved for Sales. Members of the Class of 2017 wore orange ribbons in his honor.

Maryville College Faculty Recognized

During commencement exercises, recognition was also given to faculty members for outstanding service during the 2016-17 academic year.

The Outstanding Teacher Award, the recipient of which is nominated by juniors and seniors at the College, went to Dr. John Gallagher, professor of management. In presenting the award, Wells described Gallagher as a faculty member “whom students find to be truly inspirational as a teacher, mentor and advisor.”

“He engages students with tough questions that require critical thinking, and they thank him for it,” Wells said. “This professor embodies the range and depth that characterizes a liberal arts education. He is equally comfortable teaching the capstone course in his major or our senior ethics course.

“But what some students appreciate most is studying contemporary global issues with this professor,” Wells continued. “He is a strong advocate for international travel study as a valuable part of a Maryville College education. He is a previous recipient of this award. In fact, this is his third time to receive this award.”

Dr. Jenifer Greene, associate professor of management and chair of the Division of Social Sciences, was recognized as the runner-up for the Outstanding Teacher Award. Wells described Greene as “a model of professionalism for her students” and a faculty member whose students express great respect as a teacher and advisor.

“Students appreciate that she is there for them if they need her,” Well said. “She is always willing to listen and ready to help. This is especially noteworthy because she has significant administrative responsibilities as a division chair.

“Students observe that she loves what she does, cares about student learning and is easy to work with,” Wells continued. “Whether the topic of the day is ‘stress and wellbeing at work’ or ‘organizational culture,’ she brings her very best to the classroom every day.”         

Charge to the Class of 2017

In his charge to the Class of 2017, Maryville College President Dr. Tom Bogart told the graduates to depart from the College with more than a diploma.

“Leave here transformed by your experience and dedicated to following and demonstrating the will of God through your thoughts and actions,” Bogart said. “As you continue in your journey, please remember that you always have a home here ‘where Chilhowee’s lofty mountains pierce the Southern blue.’ Come back and share with us your successes and struggles, as you have done during your time here. Be the inspiration for the next person, the way that others have inspired you. Say ‘thank you’ to those who have helped you during your time here, and let us thank you for how you have helped us.

“The Lord bless you and keep you as you continue your journey,” the president said as he concluded his remarks to the new graduates.

Written by Chloe Kennedy, Assistant Director of Communications 

Maryville College is ideally situated in Maryville, Tenn., between the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and Knoxville, the state's third largest city. Founded in 1819, it is the 12th oldest institution of higher learning in the South and maintains an affiliation with the Presbyterian Church (USA). Known for offering its students a rigorous and highly personal experience that includes an undergraduate research requirement, Maryville College is a nationally ranked institution of higher learning that successfully joins the liberal arts and professional preparation. Total enrollment for the Fall 2017 semester is 1,181.