Baccalaureate speaker urges Class of ’23 to leave home and become the people they’re destined to be

Baccalaureate speaker urges Class of ’23 to leave home and become the people they’re destined to be

Presbyterian College’s Class of 2023 may not have heard what they wanted to hear from this year’s baccalaureate speaker at first – but what they needed to hear was inspirational.

The Rev. Joe Evans ’02, the senior pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Ga. – whose address was titled, “Leaving Home” – asked graduates if they are ready to leave their alma mater.

The Rev. Joe Evans ’02, Senior Pastor, First Presbyterian Church of Marietta, Ga.

“Have you learned what you came here to learn?” he asked. “Have you done what you came here to do? Are you ready to leave this place, which maybe for the last four years has felt like home?”

Evans said he remembers feeling the same way sitting in Belk Auditorium for baccalaureate. Not knowing what was coming next. He said he, too, experienced the same familiar things – eating meals in Greenville Dining Hall, making friends, and playing intramural sports. Evans said he even fell in love with one of his classmates, Sarah Hernandez, who later became his wife.

While he took a lot of memories and relationships with him after graduating PC, Evans said he also had to leave some things behind.

“As you go out into the world, I call on you to reflect on what it is that you will take with you from this place,” he said “And what you will leave behind when you leave home. You cannot take everything with you.”

Like the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians, it is time to surrender a child’s past and embrace the journey to adulthood.

“The journey which you are on demands you leave home,” Evans said. “You can’t have the bright future God intends for you and you can’t become the person you are destined to become if you are not willing to be refined. If you are not willing to leave parts of yourself behind. Don’t forget that. This life sacrifice is required for you to become who you are destined to become.”

In addition to the steps he took to earn his future wife’s trust and respect, Evans said he remembers being summoned to former professor Dr. Peter Hobbie’s office after earning a “C” on a test – and rolling into and out of that test wearing rollerblades.

“He asked me one of the most important questions that I’ve ever been asked,” Evans said. “He asked me, Joe, when are you going to start taking seriously the gifts that God has given you? At that time, I didn’t know I had any gifts. I had no idea what it was that he was talking about.”

Evans said Hobbie saw what he might become if he literally and figuratively left the rollerblades behind – and so he did.

More importantly, Evans said he came to learn many of the same lessons the Apostle Peter learned in the New Testament. Peter’s journey from fisherman, to ardent follower, to denier, and lastly to church leader illustrates the need to overcome the fear of remaining in place, Evans said.

“Friends, as you think about graduating from Presbyterian College – this place that may feel like home to you – do you have that same fear? If you don’t, your parents do. Or your teachers do. But they have prepared you to take what you have learned here out into the world.

“But this process of leaving behind childish ways to become someone else –  to become the one God calls you to be, to become the one this world needs you to be – is one that requires persistence.”

Evans said he, too, did not know exactly what he was going to do after graduating from PC, but he was determined to find out.  He left home.

“Not only did I leave home, but I kept on believing that I was on the way to someplace even better, though leaving home was always a risk,” he said.

Evans said PC graduates must leave also.

“Because this place is not your final destination,” he said. “We are on our way from a place that feels like home to the new creation. But the thing about the new creation is that we don’t know what it’s going to look like. All we know is that we must keep walking towards it, believing in it until we get there leaving the familiar in favor of the promise.”

Evans called on the Class of 2023 to answer God’s call to learn and grow and serve.

“Tomorrow you graduate from college,” he said. “But your education is not complete. Tomorrow you’ll leave home and you’ll go out into the world but don’t you dare settle in for the next place you land is not your final destination either. Tomorrow you will take an important step towards becoming the person God created you to be, but you still have work to do. You still must continue to listen to the people God places in your path who will help you along the way. … God is not done with you. The diploma which you will receive tomorrow – go on and get it framed. Hang it proudly. But never mistake your diploma for the sign that you are complete.

Evans said each graduate’s journey is just beginning.

“When you will leave this place tomorrow you are on the way to something even better,” he said. “All that is required of you isthat you continue leaving, leaving your old self behind while holding on to the promise that there are gifts inside of you that must be taken seriously, because the world needs that you have gifts that the world outside this campus need so badly.”

At this year’s baccalaureate, PC also presented three community members with the Martha Anne Green Service to College and Church Award:

  • Craig Powell ’86 – PC professor of chemistry, ordained elder, and audio-visual coordinator for First Presbyterian of Clinton
  • Jerre Threatt – PC corporate and foundations relations officer and ordained elder and property committee chair for First Presbyterian of Clinton
  • Megan Walsh – speech pathologist for Laurens County School District 56, Clinton City Council member, and ordained elder and worship committee chair for First Presbyterian of Clinton

(Left to right) the Rev. Dr. Duke Dixon, Dr. Craig Powell, Megan Walsh, Jerre Threatt, Dr. Kerry Pannell