Encouraged to remember the sunny days and follow biblical forecast guidance while weathering life’s storms, 162 North Greenville University graduates were awarded degrees during the university’s fall commencement on Dec. 9 in Turner Chapel.
Chris Justus, Chief Meteorologist at Greenville’s WYFF News 4, drew on weather analogies while delivering the keynote address at the event, which concluded the university’s fall semester.
During the evening ceremony, NGU President Dr. Gene C. Fant, Jr. conferred 88 bachelor’s degrees, and 74 graduate degrees.
Following a welcome from President Fant and a reading from Psalm 118, an invocation was given by NGU Board Chair Mandie Boyd (’05).
“Your life will not go as planned, but the passions God has given you in your soul, stay true to those,” Boyd told the graduates being celebrated. “Walk closely with Jesus and he will make your path straight.”
The North Greenville University Choral Group performed a musical selection, and Clay Knight (’22) read Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Colossians 3:17.
Justus, who has worked as a meteorologist on air for 13 years, talked about forecasting and tracking major weather outbreaks throughout his career.
“My experience tracking storms has helped me enjoy the sunny days and the good times,” Justus said. “Often times I can overlook the good that’s right in front of me while looking ahead to track that next storm. Life’s a lot like that. We get caught up in the fear and worry of a storm that is yet to come. While character is built in the storms, life’s precious moments and memories are made on the sunny days.
Justus instructed the graduates to enjoy their accomplishments and hold firm to their faith.
He cited God’s promises in Isaiah 43:2: When you pass through deep waters I will be with you, And when you pass through the rivers, they will not sweep over you. And when you walk through fire, you will not burn.
“Notice in that passage, it says ‘when’ you go through troubled waters, not ‘if,’” Justus said. “When it comes to life’s dark days, we do not have a radar to detect those storms, but we do have a playbook, written by God, on what to do.”
“Each day is truly a gift,” Justus continued. “Here you sit with a diploma in your hand and a job well done. You should enjoy this day. It’s one of the sunniest days of your entire life. We know that 2022 will quickly become 2032, seasons will change and in 10 years, I hope you can look back with some confidence and say that you truly enjoyed the sunshine.”
During the presentation of diplomas, the university recognized the family of Spartanburg County Deputy Austin Derek Aldridge, who was killed in the line of duty earlier this year. Aldridge was awarded a posthumous degree in Criminal Justice from the university.
Marie Kelly (’22) led the singing of NGU’s Alma Mater, and Dr. Becky Thompson, NGU’s Faculty Chair and Professor of English, concluded the ceremony with a benediction.
Cary Sanders (’17, ’22)
For Cary Sanders, the path to a Doctorate in Christian Ministry began in a prison cell.
Arrested 17 times before the age of 17, Sanders spent his adolescent years pursuing a life of crime.
“I was in and out of the Department of Juvenile Justice. Mental Health tried to help me. There were just a lot of people who tried to warn me about the destruction I was headed for,” Sanders said. “I didn’t have any regard for the future.”
Just after his 17thbirthday, Sanders committed an armed robbery that landed him in prison. Awaiting his sentencing and pondering the life choices that led him to ruin, he said he decided to open a Bible.
“I began flipping through it and there was an article titled: ‘How to Have a New Life in Christ.’ It was a presentation of the Gospel--How God had created a good world, the disease of sin had entered in and humanity rebelled against God, and now there was a curse upon the whole world. Nothing could fix it except a healthy relationship with God. That made sense to me. I had felt my own powerlessness to make any lasting change in my life.”
Sentenced to 45 years with the opportunity to be released early, Sanders began living out his faith behind bars.
“I was fortunate enough to have members from local churches come in and disciple me. They helped me learn what it means to follow Christ and how to put sin to death,” he said.
Sanders spent nine years in prison before being released. Making the most of his second chance in life, he started school at North Greenville University in January of 2014. Sanders received a Bachelor of Arts degree in Christian Studies from NGU in 2017 and returned in 2019 to pursue a Doctor of Ministry degree.
“What our society most desperately needs is individuals who are passionately pursuing Jesus with excellence,” he said. “North Greenville is a place that provides that and that is rare in today’s world. It’s a place where men and women are being equipped to be transformational difference makers for our Lord.”
Sanders now serves as the Executive Director of Jumpstart, a nonprofit ministry dedicated to providing opportunities for incarcerated men and women and those re-entering society in a Christian environment.
“We have active programming in 17 different prisons,” Sanders said. “This is not jailhouse religion. It’s rigorous intensive discipleship. Nationally, the rate of recidivisms is 70 percent. Jumpstart, over the past 10 years, has a success rate of 96 percent. The Gospel works.”