Drawing upon his Baptist roots, Quantum Foundation president and guest commencement speaker Eric Kelly prefaced his remarks to Palm Beach Atlantic University’s spring graduates on Saturday with a song, belting out the opening lines of the song “Go” by gospel singer Shirley Caesar:
“Go ye therefore and teach all nations, go, go, go … baptizing them in the name of the Father, the Son and Holy Ghost, go, go, you’ve got to go.”
Church planter, pastor and Quantum Foundation president Eric Kelly speaks to Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates during the University's spring commencement on Saturday at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Kelly noted that this command, based on Jesus’ words to his disciples in Matthew 28:19-20, are quoted often when missionaries are sent out to spread the gospel around the world.
“As you hear this passage, and every time after today you hear this passage, I want you to think about your journey as a life on mission, every day as you go,” he told the more than 500 graduates and the thousands of guests in attendance at the Palm Beach County Convention Center.
Among those receiving degrees were two newly commissioned military officers, Kyle Rehberg and Sarah Woods, as well as the first graduates of the Master of Divinity program at PBA, Debra Connett and Caleb Garrett.
Kelly himself has a background in ministry, having enjoyed a successful career of over 20 years in pastoral ministry and nonprofit executive leadership. He served in three church plants in Palm Beach County, leading two of them as a bivocational pastor.
For his address, Kelly stepped into his pastor role as he offered words of advice to the departing seniors.
“As you go, go and be intentional,” he said. “Make good decisions. And as you go, go and embrace uncertainty. Know when to embrace and when to unplug.”
Being intentional involves giving careful consideration to every decision, he said.
“Those decisions are framing the life that you will live, and that framework will bring great opportunity and reward. But be careful. It can also bring great challenge for years to come.”
Even with the greatest of intentionality, life is filled with uncertainty, he said. When those times come in his own life, Kelly said he doubles down and presses into his faith, and he sets aside time for quiet reflection.
Friends and family of Palm Beach Atlantic University graduates take photographs during commencement.
He also has a close circle of godly advisers he turns to, and sometimes he relies on physical exercise “to get the neurons firing,” he said.
At times, uncertainty will remain even after he has done all those things, he said. And on those occasions, he drives to his nearest supermarket, goes to the bakery counter and orders half a dozen glazed doughnuts, he said, as the audience erupted in laughter.
He compared his doughnut breaks to unplugging a computer and allowing it to reboot.
In life, “when you have done all that you can do and you’ve drawn on everything you know to draw on, with great care, and not too many doughnuts, some days you just have to unplug, give it 30 seconds or so and let it reset,” he said.
Saturday’s ceremony also included reflections from two of this year’s Outstanding Graduates, biology major Christina Baxter of Jensen Beach and trumpet performance major Colin Aliapoulios of West Palm Beach.
Baxter, the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Arts and Sciences, said that it wasn’t the tests or the long nights studying that taught her the most during her time at PBA.
“My most lasting knowledge from these four years is knowledge of God,” she said. “My most transformative experiences have come from loving people and receiving love in return.”
Aliapoulios, the Outstanding Graduate of the School of Music and Fine Arts, told his classmates that “it is my prayer today that all of us graduating would take the knowledge we have been given and harness its potential in such a way that we might become beacons in this dark world, pointing all success straight back to the creator of all things.”
Also during the ceremony, University President William M. B. Fleming Jr. recognized Dr. Barton Starr, the dean of the School of Arts and Sciences. Starr is retiring June 30 after nine years at PBA.
The Rev. Randy Bare, co-pastor of Memorial Presbyterian Church in West Palm Beach, delivered the invocation, and Dr. Jonathan Grenz, director of PBA’s M.Div. program, gave the benediction.