The Daily Observer on Wednesday received a phone call from the President of the University of Liberia, Dr. Emmett Dennis. He was reacting to the newspaper’s Wednesday Editorial urging him to hold a Baccalaureate Service for this year’s graduates and refrain from breaking academia’s ancient, splendid and solemn tradition of offering graduates, most especially of the nation’s highest institution of learning, the University of Liberia, a spiritual parting couched in the Word of God.
Whoever the UL’s commencement speaker(s) may be, given that no Baccalaureate Service was held to give this year’s graduates a parting spiritual shot of inspiration, he/she will have a dual assignment, for that person alone is called to give the graduating class two messages in one to remember as they complete this critical stage in their education and commencement into life.
But what will that commencement speaker say—what can any such speaker say that is more important than the word of God? Does Dr. Dennis or any of us remember the song, “You know nothing until you know the love of God?”
During his phone call, Dr. Dennis said, “The UL is a secular institution.” Secular means: “worldly, non-spiritual, irreligious, materialistic.” This clearly means that a Baccalaureate Service at UL is no longer important.
Since when? For ever since its opening in 1862, Liberia College under President Joseph Jenkins Roberts has always held a Baccalaureate Service at graduation.
How soon, so tragically soon, has Dr. Dennis and, may we say the UL student body, the UL faculty senate, the UL Board of Trustees and even the Visitor to the University, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, have forgotten that only 13 years ago Liberia was in the throes of civil war, and Liberians everywhere, in their homes, their churches and mosques and, most especially in their hearts, PRAYED to God for deliverance from “that deadly, destructive war, during which over 250,000 people were killed, the country’s infrastructure destroyed and over a million of our small population driven into internal and external exile, including the nation’s intelligentsia.” Among them was yes, Dr. Dennis, his wife Yede, a renowned Liberian dentist, their families, just like those of so many of us.
Were our prayers answered? YES, they were! God inspired the Liberian women, led by Mother Mary Brownell, Madam Theresa Leigh-Sherman, Madam Leymah Gbowie and the dedicated, determined and devoted band of ordinary mothers, both Christian and Moslem, who gathered at the Fish Market on Tubman Boulevard, Monrovia, day and night, in rain and sunshine, to pray for and demand peace.
In answer to those prayers, our gracious and merciful God also raised up the International Community to come to our rescue—the Economic Community of West African States; the African Union; individual African States, including Nigeria and Ghana; the European Union; individual European States; and the United Nations to rally and come in to restore peace to Liberia.
At the war’s end in 2003, Christian and Moslem prayers were said at the swearing-in ceremony of Charles Gyude Bryant as Chairman of the National Transitional Government of Liberia (NTGL).
Now that we have, thankfully, enjoyed 13 years of peace, are we now saying we are a “secular country, with a secular national University?”
God forgive us for this singular and consummate (complete) ingratitude!
This leads us to yet another purpose of this Editorial—to highlight the thanksgiving element in all Baccalaureate Services.
Let us remember that Dr. Rocheforte L. Weeks, the first Liberian President of the University of Liberia, the longest serving and probably the most accomplished, in his 13 years of service led every academic procession with the great hymn of the church, “God of Our Fathers, Whose Almighty Hand.” It is one of the United States’ National Songs. And yes, America is a “secular” state in which no religion takes precedence over another. Yet on its currency is still inscribed, “In God we trust.”
Remember also that from 8 and 11 o’clock every Sunday morning, Americans, from the President, Senators, Congressmen and women, leading academicians, businesspeople and ordinary citizens flock by the millions to their churches to bow in humble submission and thanksgiving to their Maker for what He has done and continues to do for them and for their country.
Can we not see that because of this divine acknowledgement (In God We Trust), backed by an ingenious, patriotic and hardworking citizenry, God has made them and their country historically the richest and most powerful nation on earth?
This, we submit, is what Baccalaureates are designed to serve—Thanksgiving to God for bringing our graduates thus far and begging, imploring and pleading with the Almighty Father to carry them further into a God-fearing, prosperous, successful and rewarding future!
He has done it for Emmett Dennis and many of us. He can definitely do it for you, the graduates of 2016 and all other graduates of all other schools, especially those who ACKNOWLEDGE the Almighty God!
We find it most fitting to end this Editorial with Dr. Rocheforte L. Week’s favorite academic processional hymn:
God of our Fathers, whose Almighty hand,
Leads forth in beauty all the starry band
Of shining worlds in splendor through the skies:
Our grateful songs, before thy throne arise.
Your love divine has led us in the past
In this free land by you our lot is cast;
Oh, be our ruler, guardian, guide and stay;
Your Word our law, your paths our chosen way.
From war’s alarm, from deadly pestilence,
Make your strong arm our ever sure defense.
Your true religion in our hearts increase;
Your bounteous goodness nourish us in peace.
Refresh thy people on their toilsome way;
Lead us from night to never ending day;
Fill all our lives with heav’n-born love and grace
Until at last we meet before thy face.