A long line of students in black caps and gowns made their way, single file, into Warner Auditorium Saturday where they became the 84th class to graduate from Anderson University. Flanking both sides of the line were family, friends and faculty shaking hands, flashing photos and welcoming the more than 450 students to the real world. "Now you go to work," someone yelled to one of the students. "It's all downhill from here." University President James L. Edwards, however, told the graduates that Saturday was the beginning of an exciting adventure. They must be brave in the wake of the events of Sept. 11 as they enter a world in turmoil, he said.
"These have been challenging times," Edwards said. "It is our time to move ahead, and move ahead with courage."
He referenced former Anderson University student Steven Curtis Chapman's song "Burn the Ships" when telling the graduates they can't look back. In the song, the 16th century explorer Cortez tells his sailors to burn their ships once they landed in Mexico so they couldn't go back to Spain.
"Have courage," Edwards told the graduates. "It's time to burn the ships."
Saturday marked just the second time in his 12 years as president that Edwards delivered the commencement address.
"Having a guest speaker can be expensive, so it came down to me or the completion of the Wellness Center," Edwards joked, referring to the $16 million project, the largest building project in the school's history.
Despite the university's growth, the school remains small enough that students know one another and professors call their students by name -- which Edwards calls college close up.
"You have chosen to go to a college close up," he told the graduates. "You made a great choice."
Outside the auditorium, friends and family waited for the new graduates following the commencement ceremony. Melanie Porter's family waited with a large bouquet of black and orange balloons.
"You made it," Porter's godmother, Glennette Lofton, told the new graduate while giving her a hug.
Posing for countless pictures with the large group of family and friends there to support her, Porter said it was "absolutely fabulous" to be a college graduate.
"I'm more than excited, I'm ecstatic," she said.
Leslie Carpenter ran to the arms of a fellow graduate.
"We did it," she shouted.
Carpenter also had a large support group attending the commencement ceremony -- about 25 in fact.
"It's exciting," she said of bringing this chapter of her life to a close. "It's bittersweet. I'm sad to be leaving, but happy to be going."
---RON BROWNING is a Staff Reporter for the Anderson Herald-Bulletin.