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King University Celebrates Spring Commencement

Commencement Spring 2015BRISTOL, Tenn., May 2, 2015 – The air was filled with the sound of bagpipes on Saturday, May 2, 2015 as graduates gathered with family and friends as well as King faculty, staff, alumni, trustees, and students to celebrate King University’s Spring 2015 Commencement exercises on the Oval of the University’s main campus in Bristol, Tenn.

Diplomas were awarded to 500 students who have completed undergraduate, graduate, and professional studies degrees from the King College School of Arts and Sciences, King School of Applied Science and Technology, King School of Behavioral Health Sciences, King School of Business and Economics, King School of Education, King School of Nursing, and Peeke School of Christian Mission.  Of the 500 graduating, more than 430 walked in Saturday’s ceremony.

“Commencement is a special time as the entire campus comes together to celebrate the accomplishments of our students,” said Dr. Matt Roberts, vice president of Academic Affairs. “We look forward to their continued success in building meaningful lives of achievement and cultural transformation in Christ in our region and beyond.”

Several special recognitions were awarded during the Commencement ceremony, including the M. Jeffrey Byrd Distinguished Service Award, named in memory of M. Jeffrey Byrd, former chair of King College Board of Trustees and former president of Bristol Motor Speedway. This award is presented to a King student who “exceeds expectations” through his or her service to the community and has modeled leadership in a variety of ways throughout their college career. The award pays tribute to those who have displayed a heart for service and commitment to the mission of King, which emphasizes cultural transformation in Christ. The award also honors academic achievement, servant leadership and dedication to the student body as well as the local community.

The M. Jeffrey Byrd Distinguished Service Award recipient was awarded this year to Bonnie Jo Durrett.

This year, the Distinguished Faculty Award was awarded to Professor Susie Kelly Toomey. Professor Toomey exudes a quiet passion for excellence—both in athletics and academics. She is known for her commitment to the success of her students, steadfast in having high standards and expectations, and is a role model for faculty, staff, coaches, and administrators. She has served King University for 30 years, first in the capacity of head women’s volleyball coach and professor of Physical Education, and later, as program coordinator of Physical Education and Senior Woman Athletic Administrator.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award was named after Algernon Sydney Sullivan, a lawyer, devout Christian, mediator, orator, philanthropist, and in the words of a friend, someone who “reached out both hands in constant helpfulness to [humankind].” It is made in recognition of “fine spiritual qualities practically applied to daily living, as distinct from high scholarship, athletic achievement, and success in business, professional ability, political leadership, or mere worldly prominence in any calling.” The recipients are recognized for excellence in character and service to humanity. King appoints the recipients as its representative to bear its standard before the world.

This year one student, one staff member, and one member of the local community were recognized this year. The recipients of the prestigious Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award were Payton Tipton (’15), Donna Felty, regional director of career development for the Tri-Cities region, and Kathy Waugh, executive director of the YWCA.

Finally, The R. T. L. Liston Award for Academic Excellence honors the important contributions of the thirteenth President of King College who served for 25 years and led the College into a new era of academic excellence. Beginning in 1986, this award is selected strictly on a quantitative basis without consideration for a particular degree. The medal was designed by the late Dr. Graham G. Landrum, King professor emeritus of English. The Latin inscription quotes St. Ambrose - QVIA TV NON PRO TE SED PRO ME DOLES, which is translated “Because Thou Dost Suffer, Not For Thyself, But For Me.” The outcome of the quantitative analysis for the recipient of the Robert Todd Lapsley Liston Award resulted in a tie this year.

This year’s recipient of the R. T. L. Liston Award for Academic Excellence was Bradley Alan Baker.

This year’s Commencement speaker was Dr. Jill Peláez Baumgaertner. Dr. Baumgaertner currently serves as poetry editor of The Christian Century and is a professor of English and dean of Humanities and Theological Studies at Wheaton College. She received her Bachelor of Arts from Emory University, a Master of Arts from Drake University, and a Ph.D. in Renaissance and Seventeenth-Century British Literature from Emory University.

Dr. Baumgaertner is the author of five collections of poetry, including the recently published “What Cannot Be Fixed.” She has also edited a collection of poetry, “Imago Dei: Poetry from Christianity and Literature;” written a textbook/anthology, “Poetry;” and published “Flannery O’Connor: A Proper Scaring,” still in print after twenty-five years.

Dr. Baumgaertner was a Fulbright fellow to Spain, was nominated for a Pushcart Prize, and is the winner of the White Eagle Coffee Store Press’s poetry chapbook contest, the Goodman Award, an Illinois Arts Council Award, the Illinois Prize of the Rock River Poetry Contest, and the CCL Midwest Poetry Contest. She has served as the poetry editor of The Cresset and First Things and is a former president of the Conference on Christianity and Literature. She also formerly taught at Valparaiso University.

On Friday, May 1, graduates joined together in worship during King’s annual Baccalaureate Ceremony at First Presbyterian Church

The Baccalaureate ceremony speaker was the Rev. Dr. Brian Alderman. Dr. Alderman has served as Chaplain and associate professor of Religion at King University since Aug. 2014. Prior to King, he served as the pastor of Madisonville Presbyterian Church and chaplain at Hiwassee College in Madisonville, Tenn. He is an ordained teaching elder in the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.)

A native of Galax, Virginia, Dr. Alderman received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Lee College and his Master of Divinity from Princeton Theological Seminary. He earned his Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible from Emory University in Atlanta, Ga.

Dr. Alderman has also taught at Lee University, McAfee School of Theology at Mercer University, and Candler School of Theology at Emory University.


King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university. Founded in 1867 as King College, the University offers more than 90 majors, minors, pre-professional degrees and concentrations in fields such as business, nursing, law, medical and health sciences, pharmacy, education, and humanities. Graduate programs are offered in business administration, education, and nursing. A number of research, off-campus learning opportunities, and travel destinations are also available. King University is a NCAA Division II and a Conference Carolinas member with 25 varsity sports. For more information about King University, visit King University does not discriminate against academically qualified students of any race, color, national or ethnic origin, sex, age, or disability. King University is certified by SCHEV to operate locations in Virginia. For more information, contact the King University office at Southwest Virginia Community College, 309 College Road, Richlands, VA 24641.