Press Release

Barnhill Speaks at Spring Commencement

Tuesday, May 10, 2011
by Beth Sowers

Hannibal, MO – On a beautiful day in May, Hannibal-LaGrange University graduates made their way along the traditional Walk of Honor through the iconic arch to the Mabee Sports Complex to bring to fruition all their hard work and determination.  The 186-member spring 2011 graduating class of Hannibal-LaGrange University marked the first May commencement as a university. In December 2010, 97 graduates completed their requirements and moved their tassels during the mid-year graduation ceremony for a combined 283 graduates for the 2010-11 academic year.  

Dr. Woodrow W. Burt, president of Hannibal-LaGrange University, welcomed guests and praised the graduates on their accomplishments.  “In a very real sense, this occasion is what we are all about here at HLGU,” said Burt.  “We are delighted that you are here to celebrate with us and to honor these fine graduates.”  Burt then addressed the families of the graduates, and thanked them for their sacrifices and efforts in bringing their graduate’s dreams to reality. Burt also acknowledged the HLGU Board of Trustees.

The speaker for this year’s commencement was Julie Barnhill, author and tv/radio personality. Barnhill was raised in Brunswick, MO, and graduated from Hannibal-LaGrange in 1987 with a bachelor’s in elementary education.  Barnhill is a persuasive and efficient communicator who is able to affect positive life-change in those she leads, melding wit, humor, intellect, and practical biblical teaching and application through print, audio, social media, television, and radio. Barnhill has written 11 books, and been featured on numerous radio shows as well as speaking engagements, and was a guest on the Oprah show in 2002.

Barnhill is married and has three children. Her daughter, Kristen, was in the graduating class that Barnhill addressed, a first for HLGU.

“Dr. Burt, board members, administration, faculty, parents, alum, honored guests, and you, mostly, class of 2011, I’m honored to be here to speak to you... Even though you don’t have a clue who I am,” joked Barnhill.

“It’s more than an honor, it’s a joy, and you won’t get this ‘til later, but when you come and back and you walk onto campus and you see some familiar faces and people know your first name and you can connect, it’s like coming back home.”

“I want you to know that I have been 21 and 22 and the ages that you are, but you’ve never been 45 yet,” continued Barnhill. “So I’m just going to give you a heads up to some things that you can expect in the years to come.” Barnhill then interacted with the graduates by having them hold out their hands to symbolically receive a crash helmet, which she pointed out they were going to need in the days ahead. “I’m telling you that life is coming at you; and you’ve got your degree and you have your dreams and you’re gonna figure everything out, but life gets hard, and if you can exhale at some of these points in your life and just say, ‘you know what I’m a mess, I don’t have it all together,’ it’s just going to alleviate a lot of those things.”

“It’s always better to know what you don’t want to do, because it sharpens you for what you love to do, and that’s what I want you to hear more than anything: Do what you love. By degree, I am an elementary education teacher. But by love, I am a radio guest, a Bible teacher, a comedic wannabe, an author, and a toucher of Oprah,” said Barnhill, garnering a chuckle from the audience. She then told the graduates to use their crash helmets and embrace failure, using the example of American Idol contestants that really give it their all and risk failure, are the ones that move the farthest in the competition. “Why not,” said Barnhill. “The worst thing they can say is no.”

In Barnhill’s concluding remarks, she stated that “all of history is hurdling forward to a predetermined set point. This is bigger than your individual life, it’s bigger than your individual story, and it’s bigger than your individual class and generation. There is at work a story that is being written by God and you’re part of it. But what helps you hold on to the fact that you’re a mess and helps you exhale as you’re going out into the world is that everything isn’t dependent on you because you are being pursued by the hound of Heaven. You are being pursued by God.”

Following the keynote message, Dr. Burt received the recommendation from Dr. David Pelletier, vice president for academic affairs, to accept the graduating class of 2011 whose credentials have been carefully evaluated and been found to be complete according to appropriate standards.  “On behalf of the HLGU Board of Trustees, I hereby confer upon each the appropriate degree earned,” said Burt.

Also at commencement, the Parkway Distinguished Scholar Award was presented to Katherine Burt, assistant professor of English at HLGU. The $1,000 award is given by Parkway Baptist Church in St. Louis.  Selection for the award is based on outstanding professional and personal contributions to Christian education.

Katherine has a B.A. from Mississippi State College for Women and an M.A. from the University of Mississippi and has done additional study at Truman State University and Southeast Missouri State University. She first began her service to Hannibal-LaGrange University in 1976. In 1988 she was appointed as a full-time faculty member, and has provided more than 30 years of service to the institution. As part of her service to the university, she also served in 1999 on the faculty of Harlaxton College in Grantham, England. Along with her role as an assistant professor, Katherine also currently also serves as Chairperson of the Division of Humanities and Chairperson of the English Department. In addition, she also serves on the Teacher Education Committee and the Student Learning Improvement Committee. As if that were not enough, she also supervises student teachers who are majoring in secondary education with an emphasis in English.

Profession-related honors received by Katherine include the Governor’s Award for Excellence in Teaching (2000), and Who’s Who Among America’s Teachers, (1994 and other years).

Katherine is the wife of Dr. Burt, HLGU President, and is the mother of three grown children and has four grandchildren.

This year for the first time, an HLGU Staff Member of the Year Award was presented.

“Hannibal-LaGrange University is blessed to have many exceptional people that contribute to our successes,” said Dr. Burt. “Many of these are our own employees who work tirelessly to do their job and seek no public recognition for their efforts. For the first time we have established a means whereby we can recognize those of our staff who go above and beyond the call of duty,” continued Burt.  “The HLGU Staff selected an exemplary individual to receive the first ever Staff Member of the Year Award. This person is being recognized for outstanding service to our students, staff, faculty, and administration and for making HLGU a better place to work and study.” Burt went on to present the award to Marilyn Lehenbauer, mailroom supervisor and central receiving coordinator.

Special music during the ceremony was presented by John Francis, worship specialist for the Missouri Baptist Convention, as well as the father of one of the graduates, Madelynn, yet another first for HLGU.

Contact Information

Carolyn Carpenter
Director of Public Relations