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IMG_5685The pomp and circumstance were in the air.  Families and friends rolled in from miles around.  Some even landed after a long plane ride.

Each graduate had a lot to celebrate.  Graduate and post-graduate education takes a lot out a person’s soul.  It is more than just an education.

The hallowed halls of a seminary set a course for every student to master a theological theme that will prepare them for a lifetime of ministry.  They leave the seminary with skills to preach, teach and guide the lives of every kind of person that they will likely meet as a pastor or church leader.

Each one has even been trained to deal with the unruly, the unlikable and the trouble-maker.  Yes, in the ministry those kinds of unpleasant people lurk among the pews.  They have a self-imposed calling to make life difficult for the leader who shepherds the flock.

Most have even studied foreign languages, both alive and dead.  Their skills in the grammar and art form of language was won over countless nights of studying, hard disciplined memorization and endless hours of rehearsing and thinking.

Before they could graduate they had to stand in front of peers and professors and speak sermons, teach lessons and debate issues.  The spoken word is now their friend and greatest avenue of communication.  They are orators of the best kind; they speak on behalf of Almighty God, who called them to service.

Each one felt the relief when the final paper was turned in.  Smiles replaced pensive feelings of uncertainty.  Finally, the Registrar’s office gave them the good news: they were qualified to graduate!

Faculty gathered with resplendent regalia.  The colors of their robes showed off the universities where they graduated.  A variety of alma mater represented the world.

The auditorium was massive enough to have open seating and a completely free invitation.  Cheering sections formed.  Excitement filled the air with a prelude of videos and music.

But, the familiar song began the service as the faculty marched in.  The graduates were right behind them.  Everyone in the audience “ooh’ed and ah’ed” with the traditional display.

Each hard-working graduate was treated to an earful of sounds, an eyeful of ceremony and a heart-full of challenge to no longer fill a classroom.  Now, it was time to put all of that learning into action.  It was time to COMMENCE!

Congratulations, DTS Class of 2015!  God bless each and everyone of you.  Now, get going and tear it up for Jesus!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

11178203_10152408615652614_555981716271583104_nWe are an extension campus.  Our Dallas campus is the headquarters of this amazing ministry.  Yet, our Houston operation is growing by leaps and bounds.

We have 34 graduates this year.  They are mostly local to the great city of Houston and its surrounding region.  Most of their friends and family will have a tough time making the journey to Dallas to celebrate their commencement achievements.

To give local family and friends the chance to be a part of this substantial celebration, our extension campus has a Graduation Chapel one week prior to the central festivities up north.  We honor each graduate with a brief description of what their plans and destination is after they receive their sheep skin.  We fill the chapel service with great worship, intimate prayer, laughter, memories and special recognition of those who stood out with academic and service demonstrations.

I scanned the crowd many times during this chapel service.  The smiles were a mile wide and the tears were free-flowing.  Trying to imagine all of the answered prayers for the many years represented by these graduates is mind-blowing.

Photographs with special people were endless.  The four sheet cakes disappeared as the party spread into the foyer.  Guests drank sweet punch, returned endless times for refreshing chilled water and stopped many times along their course of walking to congratulate and exchange hugs with fellow classmates.

Previous graduates returned to cheer on their friends.  Current students marveled and told me that they had something even more to anticipate.  Relatives were overcome with the joy of reaching this end.

Children were laughing with their parents.  One mom told me that she was rehearsing her Hebrew vocabulary flash cards while in labor for the little one that she hugged next to her leg.  Life and success cannot get much more precious than this.

photo 4Gratitude is over the top on this event.  Conversations about calling, dreams about the ministry to come and deep gratitude of God’s faithfulness were common in the crowd.  With pride I watched out once students now shine as Masters of Theology, Masters of Arts and Over-comers in all sorts of adversities.

Faithful too are the staff and faculty that I am privileged to call “Team Houston”.  They are selfless, persevering and godly men and women who live to serve others.  Here on a Saturday, they are going above and beyond the call of duty to make sure that these graduates always remember this day.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_2040Commencement services touch different people in different ways.  This was my first Dallas Seminary graduation service since joining as a member of the team.  It was overwhelming, electrifying and deeply encouraging all at the same time.

The service is held at the Prestonwood Baptist Church in Plano, TX.  I had been there one time in the past.  It is an enormous facility!

Just the lobby is big enough to hold many small churches many times over.  It seems fair that ushers need to be posted every 50 yards to redirect lost visitors.  At least lighted directories could be a key points just like a shopping mall pointing out clearly “you are here” designations.

The faculty gathered in the Fireside room.  All of us were donning our academic regalia and it was a colorful sight of brilliant past academic achievement at world-renown Universities.  Styles and colors represented academic disciplines, institutional emphases and traditions unique to specific postgraduate programs.

We were lined up to match the seating predetermined by someone’s gifted administrative details.  The music started.  Our procession began behind our beloved President.

Just like a well-laid plan we all ended up in seats on the platform and then watched an amazing picture unfold.  Nearly 400 graduates filed in to the sounds of celebration.  Each one had years of hard work, outstanding performance and lasting relationships buried in their minds.  Now it was time to celebrate their diligent achievement.

Like clockwork someone’s plan to flow from detail to detail actually occurred.  It was an amazing synchronization of many details.  All of the pomp and circumstance has a reason and it fit together like a well-oiled machine.

On cue from our Academic Vice President, he gave the signal for all friends and family to cheer on their favorite graduate.  The entire auditorium erupted.  It was exhilarating.  Then, the grads in turn expressed their appreciation for their family and friends.  Smaller in number by comparison was almost insignificant when it came to measuring decibel levels.

The commencement speaker was spot on.  Special music was wonderful.  Every little piece of the event was stunning.

Then came the climax.  We all sang the seminary hymn, All Hail the Power of Jesus Name.  This is the version that is sung to the diadem tune.  Check out this version at  It stirs the soul.

Each time that I sing this version I feel the commitment to this wonderful institution.  Now, as a faculty member I am touched by the faithful lives that have gone ahead of me in the legacy of DTS.  What an honor to serve here!

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

IMG_2015Slowly but excitedly, guests began to arrive.  This was a very special day for our graduates.  Today was the day of their Graduation Chapel.  Something in my chest felt odd; it was a bit of pressure.

Their official commencement takes place in Dallas.  But, here in Houston is where families reside, their friends are here and their church family is here. Most of their support team will not be able to make the trek to the main campus.  This is our purpose: to give families and friends a reason to celebrate together.

I love graduation events.  There is such a celebration of the human effort and the counting of blessings from the Lord.  When graduates gather to commemorate their achievements there is everlasting relief.  But, besides relief there is an unmistakable note of rejoicing.  Those two features are joined by an intense resolve to enter into their new life of ministry and discover all that God wants them to do.  That chest feeling was still there and seemingly growing.

There were times when students thought it was too hard.  They were demoralized.  It would have been easy to quit and they almost signed the papers to end their enrollment.  However, their presence at the graduation chapel proved that they stuck it out.  Now, there is a huge smile on their faces.  It was genuine.

This was an informal chapel.  We had cheering.  Laughter was encouraged.  No spontaneous eruption for a loved ones was frowned upon. In fact it was encouraged.  A spike inside of my chest reminded me that it was there.

The music was angelic. Each spoken word was challenging.  The awards were stimulating.  People were enjoying themselves.

IMG_2018Applause was common.  Agreement from special people reverberated throughout the auditorium.  Prayers went beyond the rafters and reached the throne of God.

After the program was over the fun was about ready to commence.  People followed the wonderful fragrance.  Caters were putting the final touches on the table fare.  The barbeque meatballs were smelling very good and making us all very hungry.

Now, the real party let everyone be a part of the celebration.  Old and young, locals and relatives from afar joined in the rousing sounds of a room filled with people all talking at once.  It was electrifying.  Kudos to Dr. Bailey, Willie, Evetta, Leonetta, Sherry and a host of student volunteers!

This was a joyous exultation of sheer happiness.  We were all glad to be here.  We were especially glad for our graduates who deserved the occasion to honor their years of faithful work.

photo credit: brucefong cellphone photography

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 091My camera has an athletic events setting.  Just in case I am in a situation requiring frequent shots it is there.  I never really thought much of the option.

Now, I was at our youngest son’s White Coat ceremony.  It is the portal that these young health professionals pass through with great delight.  Now, they have finished a grueling period of rigorous classroom work.

In a matter of weeks they will begin their “rotations”.  They will be assigned to real hospitals with real illnesses and injuries.  There they will work alongside physicians and put their knowledge into

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 092


This is a major milestone for these students.  It is worth the pause to celebrate.  A ceremony when they put on their white coats is the symbol of that achievement.

Knowing that our son’s passage across the stage would happen quickly, I remembered the athletic action setting.  Once it was clicked into place, I just snapped away.  Each motion moment was captured on digital slides.

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 093A faculty member introduced Jeremy by name.  Cheerfully he sauntered across the stage.  Another faculty member held out his white coat.

Jeremy put in one arm.  People were applauding.  I know that our family was cheering.

Then, the final arm slipped into place. He adjusted his shoulders like a man donning a new suit.  It looked good.  It seemed to fit him just right.

His faculty member smoothed out the creases.  A pat on his shoulders with a beaming pride came Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 095from teacher to student.  I was smiling while snapping away.

Then, there was a hug.  That’s not usual.  At least in my experience I did not commonly see such affection in a commencement ceremony.

Words were whispered that we in the crowd were not privy to.  It was one professional speaking encouragement into the next generation of professionals.  If that is what bedside manner is all about then these people did something very good in the educational process.

Jeremy's PA White Coat Celebration 2013 096

One more faculty member was on stage.  She was not about to be short-changed from a congratulatory hug and special words whispered to her student.  It was all happening so quickly.

Every family member and friend who came to the ceremony waited for their special member to walk the stage and be gowned in their professional white coat.  We all got into the mood and cheered every graduate whose name was called.  The athletic setting worked just right.

photo credit: brucefong photography

IMG_1575This was a different kind of plane ride for me.  Usually, I’m winging my way to some distant city to speak or teach or serve as counsel.  Those “ministry” trips are focused and filled with a large measure of responsiblity.

Our plane was zipping through the skies at 500 mph heading for a destination 4 hours away.  But, I was relaxed, in fact, I was excited.  This was not a trip where I was the focus.

The youngest in our family was finishing up his academic rigors as a Physician Assistant (PA) and getting ready for his rotations.  He and his graduating classmates were getting ready to put into practice on real people with real health issues all that they had learned in books, lectures and discussions.  As a rite of passage, each graduate was presented a white coat with their name embroidered on the front.

IMG_1574Our family and friends came from Portland, Burbank, Sacramento, San Francisco, Fremont, Brisbane, Oakland, Walnut Creek, Hayward, Detroit and Houston.  Smiles were displaying deep family pride and personal joy.  We were ready for a party!

On the night of the ceremony our collection of eleven filled up a row in the auditorium.  Others were gathering to cheer on one special life as we were, just a different life.  What we experienced and witnessed together was astounding.

This was not the typical pomp and circumstance of a boring, dull and dragged out academic ceremony.  Instead, there was a camaraderie and collegiality that these 64 graduates genuinely shared with each other and with their faculty.  It was electrifying.

They knew each other and celebrated with each other.  Fist bumps, hugs, high fives and verbal commendations were collectively poured out, returned and shared.  There was a community that was electric in the graduates.

The director of the school began with his remarks that were meaningful and reminiscent of fond times together.  Spontaneous laughter and raucous teasing did not dominate or distract but added to the celebration mode.  When the official speaker climbed the stage, students knew her, cheered her on and you could see these students absorbing her challenge.

IMG_1576There were two awards given.  One was the highest academic achievement.  She was applauded and no one seemed surprised.

A second award was presented.  It was the Outstanding Service award.  They gave it to my son, Jeremy, the president of the class.  Again, the students gave their collective approval with enthusiastic sound.  It made us proud.