Johnson encourages graduates to ponder legacy they will leave

Implored to live a life in service to the Lord, 301 North Greenville University students had their degrees conferred during spring commencement ceremonies on Friday, May 3, at Melvin and Dollie Younts Stadium.

Walter Johnson, founding dean of NGU’s College of Christian Studies, delivered the keynote address at the ceremony, which capped the academic year at the private university.

Johnson has served at North Greenville for 32 years and is retiring from his role this month.

Following a welcome by NGU President Gene C. Fant Jr., William C. Tyler, chairman of the university’s board of trustees, delivered the invocation.

Graduating seniors Graham Ford and Giorgiana Hunte read passages from Jeremiah 29:11-13 and Matthew 5: 14-16 before the commencement address to graduates and guests.

Johnson opened his remarks by reading 2 Timothy 4:7, which says, “I have fought the good fight. I have finished the race. I have kept the faith.”

“When Paul wrote this, he was looking retrospectively. What I want us to do is look forward at our own lives,” Johnson said. “Look at this verse prospectively. Look at it in the future.”

The Greenville native recalled a question his second-grade teacher asked when he visited her in the hospital 30 years after she had taught him.

“‘Was I a good teacher?’ That’s the question that an 85-year-old sitting on the side of a hospital bed is going to ask,” he said. “Two things came to mind. The first is, ‘That is a very important question.’ The second thought was, ‘Now is not the time to have asked that question.’ The time to have asked that question was every day that you walked into that classroom.”

Johnson told graduates they are going to be wondering the same things about their lives.

“One day when you’re 85 years old and you’re sitting in a hospital room, you’re going to want to know if you did a good job. Were you a good husband or a good wife? Were you a good employer or employee? Were you a good father or a good mother? Whatever place God puts you in to serve, on that day you’re going to want to know, did you do a good job?”

The assurance of a life well-lived, Johnson said, comes from serving the Lord each day. He recalled another interaction he had with a former teacher — this time his high school chemistry teacher, who had spent decades on mission performing dental work for those in need overseas.

“This is how you live your life, by getting up every day and praying, ‘God, help me today to please You.’ When you do that, you’ll come to that day and you’ll have a joy in your heart that you will be thankful for,” he said.

“Resolve in your heart right now: ‘I am going to give God my best every moment of every day.’”

Retiring from his role after more than three decades as a professor and academic administrator at NGU, Johnson was surprised with the awarding of an Honorary Doctor of Divine Letters “in recognition for his classroom excellence, his dedication to serving our community, and his commitment to kingdom work that has been his lifelong passion.”

“Dr. Johnson is known as a mentor all across the state,” said President Fant. “He has taught probably as many, if not more, students than anybody who has ever taught at the university. He has been deeply influential for so many.”

Johnson said he was thankful for his tenure of service in Tigerville.

“North Greenville University is the place to be,” Johnson said. “It has been a great ride. I’m thankful for it. And if I had the opportunity, I’d do it all over again. It has been a blessing.”

Following conferring of degrees, Brian Autry led attendees in a Blessing of the Graduates and graduating seniors Jaylan Brinson and Caden Brannen led the singing of the alma mater.

Kayla Black, director of the Honors Program at NGU, delivered the benediction.

Spring commencement concluded with a celebratory fireworks display.

— Billy Cannada is communications manager for the Office of University Marketing and Communications at North Greenville University.