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More than 350 King Students Honored During Commencement

April 27, 2019

BRISTOL, Tenn., April 27, 2019 — Dr. Craig McDonald on Saturday returned to King University where he was a beloved member of the campus community for more than three decades to remind members of the Class of 2019 ‘’your life is a miracle.”

“Our life is a miracle,” said McDonald, who delivered the Commencement address that honored more than 350 graduates. “Regardless of how greatly we have failed, of how deeply we have sinned, of how low our fortunes have fallen, of how much we have been stripped of things, friendships, of health, of status, our life is still a miracle. Your life’s a miracle.”

The ceremony took place on the Campus Oval and began with a bagpipe processional led by Andrew Hicks of King’s Class of 2005. King Chaplain Brian Alderman led the invocation and graduating student Jessica Vargo provided a reading from the Holy Scripture, before McDonald presented his address, titled “The Janitor at the Gate.”

In that talk, McDonald noted that there will always be obstacles that seem insurmountable, but often those are the things that provide the strength to accomplish great things.

McDonald joined the King University faculty in 1982 and enlightened students with his vast knowledge of English grammar and British literature until his retirement in 2017. During his long tenure, he was well loved and highly respected by students for his focus on the fundamentals of good writing and his lessons on Shakespeare. That “distinctive service,” earned him professor emeritus recognition during Saturday’s ceremony.

“Distinctive service is defined by the faculty member’s proven capabilities in teaching, scholarship, student advising, and service to the Institution,” said President Alexander Whitaker IV. “Additionally, the candidate for emeritus status has provided clear and demonstrable support of the institution’s mission. Dr. Craig McDonald embodies all of the qualities and characteristics I have just mentioned, and it is with great pride and honor that we present to him today the title of faculty emeritus from King University.”

Other highlights of Saturday’s ceremony included the presentation of awards to graduating students and community members.
Heather Parker, an honor student who received a Bachelor of Social Work degree, was presented with the M. Jeffrey Byrd Distinguished Service Award. Named for the former chairman of King’s Board of Trustees who was an influential business and civic leader, the award each year recognizes a graduating student for academic achievement, servant leadership, and dedication to the King student body and local community.

While at King, Heather served as president of Chi Omega, the social work honor society, and as a member of the Social Work Action Group. She also has been an active volunteer with Abuse Alternatives and OneLove Foundation, an organization that works to educate people on healthy relationships. She has assisted the homeless population in Bristol, too, through her work with the university’s annual blanket drive and blessing bag program. Heather recently accepted a position as a Social Work Case Manager for Highlands Community Services and plans to pursue a master’s degree.

The Algernon Sydney Sullivan Award recognizes those who demonstrate the highest standards of character, integrity, and service to those in need. The award honors those who, like the 19th Century lawyer and businessman it is named for, “reach out both hands in constant helpfulness to others.” Graduating student Darrell D. Smith and the husband-wife team of John and Karen Vann were this year’s recipients.
Darrell, who earned a Bachelor of Social Work degree Saturday, is a veteran of the United States Air Force Security Forces, where he provided counseling and crisis intervention to survivors of domestic violence. While enrolled at King, he has served as president of the Social Work Action Group and as an active member of Chi Omega, the social work honor society. He also has been an active volunteer for the Children’s Advocacy Center and served as a Court Appointed Special Advocate for children and families. He recently completed a 400-hour internship with the Veterans Affairs Hospital at Mountain Home.

The Vann’s are active members of First Presbyterian Church in Bristol and have worked closely with Wycliffe Associates, an organization dedicated to translating the Bible for those in remote regions of the world. Karen is a 1998 graduate of King who has served the community through her work with Bristol Faith in Action, the YWCA Board of Directors, the Reading Buddies Program at Fairmount elementary School, and the Blue Stockings Club. She currently serves as a member of King’s Board of Trustees. John serves as President of the Noon Rotary Club of Bristol, and as a board member for the United Way of Bristol, Citizens Bank, Healing Hands Health Center, Bristol Regional Medical Center, the paramount Chamber Players, and the King Institute for Faith and Culture Advisory Board. He is a graduate of Wake Forest, where he now serves as a trustee, and currently works for The Summit Companies.

The R.T.L. Liston Award, named for King’s 12 president, recognizes the graduating student with the highest grade point average. Amanda Biggs was honored Saturday with this award.

King University is a Presbyterian-affiliated, doctoral-level comprehensive university accredited by the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges (SACSCOC) to award associate, baccalaureate, master, and doctoral degrees. 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; for questions related to accreditation, contact SACSCOC at 1866 Southern Lane, Decatur, GA. 30033-4097, or call 404.679.4500. 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 in Virginia. King’s primary location in Virginia is Southwest Virginia Community College, 724 Community College Rd, Cedar Bluff, VA 24609.