Colorado Christian University's Class of 2009 was sent into the world May 9 with majestic music, rousing speeches and a surprise greeting from Afghanistan by one of their own. "By the grace of God you have accomplished a wonderfully worthy goal," President Bill Armstrong told a packed sanctuary at Cherry Hills Community Church. "Now God is calling you to a life of adventure, significance and fulfillment -- come help change the world!"
It was from the other side of the world that one of CCU's 387 graduates was able to take part, thanks to weeks of planning by the University and the United States Air Force. Master Sgt. Ben Seidl, 38, became a highlight of graduation day from his post thousands of miles away in Afghanistan. The career military man, who has been serving in Afghanistan since November, delivered a special video greeting to the crowd of more than 3,000 people. Among them were members of his own far-flung family who had been invited as special guests of the University.
The unusual graduation of the active-duty soldier -- the first in his family to receive a college degree -- was covered by the Denver Post and three TV stations. Thanks to CCU's adult education and online programs, Seidl was able to complete the last three classes required for a Bachelor of Science degree while serving overseas.
But despite his hard work, several months ago Seidl had reluctantly sent his regrets from Afghanistan, saying he wouldn't be home in time to attend the ceremony. That's when CCU staffer Marti Hudson, who also has a son in Afghanistan, set in motion a plan to make Seidl part of graduation day. CCU began working with the Air Force to arrange for Ben to make a video greeting. The University invited Seidl's children, Carly, 15 and Justin, 17, from Colorado Springs for the ceremony, along with Seidl's girlfriend, Christy Anderson.
The University also flew in Seidl's father Robert, from Oregon. The 60-year-old Seidl was called to the stage by President Armstrong to accept the diploma on his son's behalf. Later, the elder Seidl, who described himself as "a jack of all trades," said he was "pretty shocked" by the graduation invitation. He said he hadn't seen his son in years, nor his grandchildren, since they were very small.
What's more, the trip to Colorado marked just the third time he had ever flown in an airplane. As for his son's accomplishments? "Ben has dedicated his life to making sure people are free and can be educated, and be all they can be," Seidl said. "That's why we have the best country in the world." The younger Seidl, who will be back in Colorado at the end of May, appeared on a large overhead screen to greet the crowd in a taped, 90-second address.
Seidl praised CCU as "an awesome school" but added it was sometimes hard to hit the books. "It wasn't always easy because I wasn't always at camp, sometimes I was out in the field," Seidl said. "My family and my kids -- who are both straight-A students -- need to know they should keep learning their entire life. I want to show them no matter what happens, no matter how busy you are, you need to continue learning."
President Armstrong praised Seidl for his "dedication, tenacity and ability to adapt," and then called on all military veterans to stand, where they were greeted with sustained applause.
Read more about Ben Seidl's story in "Going the Extra Degree for a GI
" by Tina Griego of The Denver Post.
Among the day's highlights was a Doctor of Divinity degree bestowed on Don Reeverts. The prominent community leader helped launch Young Life in Colorado, and was key organizer of the highly regarded Colorado Prayer Luncheon, which draws thousands of participants every year in May. Reeverts is currently executive director of Whiz Kids Tutoring, a non-profit organization he created 18 years ago which links tutors with children who live below the poverty line.
Jim Daly, president and CEO of Focus on the Family, capped the memorable day with a rousing, 13-minute commencement address. Daly opened by admitting to the crowd he was performing a function that's usually forgettable. "Twenty-five years ago, I was in your seat and I can't remember a single thing that commencement address said," Daly began.
Daly said he wanted to say something so that 25 years from now, today's graduates would say, "I remember that guy, and he said this." The most important thing to remember, Daly said, is that "Jesus is real, Jesus is true." As for trials and tribulations -- "Race toward them!" -- because they produce dependence on God.
"Many of the students here have faced hardship, but guess what? That's life," Daly said. His own trials began at age 5, when, in short order, his parents divorced, his mom died, his stepfather walked out, and then his own father died. At a young age, Daly was on his own. "The trials just kept coming," he said. "But you know something? The hand of God was on the back of my neck and the hand of God is on the back of each of your necks, too, and he wants to be there for you. He is real and he is true."
Daly drew from memories as college quarterback and as an up and coming young executive to drive home the message that one should always ask God for wisdom about what to do, "and then be ready to do it." Daly recalled how, in 1989, he was poised to accept his first six-figure salary in the corporate world when, out of the blue, Focus on the Family called with a far more modest job offer. Daly chose Focus, and never looked back. He used his experience to offer advice to graduates just starting out.
"Young people, thinking of their future, try to find one spot on God's continuum -- his exact will," Daly said. But instead of trying to out-think what God wants, "I think his will is very simple -- 'Do my bidding every day, look for people who are hurting and help them,'" Daly said. "It doesn't matter if you're in the law or business or in ministry, we have to fulfill that mission." And most of all, Daly said, keep Jesus Christ front and center: "Each day, wake up, seek him, live for him one day at a time, and your life will be full of reward and adventure."