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By Bob Holmes
Perhaps a ferry boat across the Broad River would make things easier. A fall commencement tradition at Columbia International University means a full day of celebration on each side of the Broad River that separates CIU from one of the state’s largest prison facilities. Graduation day includes commencement in Shortess Chapel on the main campus and at Kirkland Correctional Institution where the CIU Prison Initiative holds a separate ceremony for a cohort of CIU student-inmates. The Initiative offers an Associate of Arts degree to qualifying inmates who are then sent out to state prisons across South Carolina as chaplain’s assistants.
The Dec. 13 celebrations this year started in the morning in Shortess Chapel on the main campus where 106 students were recognized for earning degrees from Associate of Arts to doctorates. The commencement speaker was Don Brock, the senior pastor of Gateway Baptist Church in Ballentine, S.C. He was substituting for CIU Chancellor Dr. George Murray who was under the weather.
Speaking from the Parable of the Talents in Matthew 25, Brock told the graduates that the parable reminds him of how God has invested in each believer.
“He has invested the Holy Spirit in your life, He has invested spiritual gifts into your life, He has invested certain abilities — He has even invested a personality into you,” Brock began. “The reality is that one day I will give an account to God for that investment. I will give an account to Him for what has happened to those resources He invested into me.”
Brock then challenged the graduates.
“So as you begin this next journey of your life, I hope you are taking stock in the investment God has made in you — and what are you going to do with that investment.”
Then in the afternoon, several members of the CIU faculty and administration crossed the river (by car over a bridge) for the CIU Prison Initiative commencement where a cohort of 12 male student-inmates received their diplomas before a crowd of proud family members.
Among those offering perspectives on the day was “Reggie,” the cohort’s designated leader (full names of the inmates are not permitted because of security concerns).
Reggie said in an interview after the ceremonies that God had truly blessed the graduates.
“This moment is indescribable,” Reggie said. “I feel like anything I say would be an understatement. I just thank God for this day.”
The graduates will join 51 CIU Prison Initiative alumni who are assigned to 18 different institutions across the state. The first class of 12 female student-inmates is due to graduate in August 2014.
Check out photos from the commencement on the main campus at: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ciuimpact/sets/72157638734441314/