Graduation this year at Southern Adventist University stands apart from others not just because it was the school’s 120th, but because of 87 year-old graduate Allyn Gilbert, M.D., and a unique class gift.
Allyn Gilbert was greeted with a standing ovation on Sunday as he walked across the stage of the Chattanooga Convention Center to receive his diploma for a M.A. in Religious Studies. Allyn is now the oldest graduate in the history of Southern.
As a retired physician from California, Allyn admits when first starting classes he never planned to finish with a degree.
Allyn explains that there are two special people that motivated him into getting his master’s degree, his late wife, and Professor Greg King, dean for the School of Religion, a close friend.
"In her dying days she'd ask me questions about now who were the Philistines, who were the this, who were that. I never intended to go on for a degree, I'd just take a few courses and that's all I wanted to do and then it got so exciting that I would take another course. And if I passed one course I'd shoot for the next course," Allyn said.
Allyn would go on to complete his master’s in Collegedale where his friend, King, had been given a teaching position.
"We've become very good friends over the years. I just admire so much his desire to learn things. He's an example for the rest of us for his thirst for learning no matter how young or old you are,” King said.
Even though he has received his degree, Allyn says he wishes to continue his ties to Southern by accompanying an excavation team to the Holy Land.
Lee University president Paul Conn gave the commencement address, titled "Just Who Do You Think You Are, Anyway?"
Southern’s class of 2012 decided on an Affinity Fund as their class gift, a never-before-ventured contribution that is designed to make every student feel like they had a personal hand in giving something back to Southern.
The idea for the Affinity Fund as a class gift was brought to the 2012 class officers by the Advancement Office at Southern. When donating to the fund, individual students get to choose whichever Southern academic department, student organization, or ministry they want their money to go to.
The idea, according to Mia Lindsey, campaign manager of the 2012 class, is to give students the chance to give back to what impacted them most during their time here. Mia says that students are encouraged to give $20.12 in honor of their graduation year, 2012.
Some students were concerned that with this type of gift there would be no tangible record left behind on campus to prove that they gave.
The class officers and the Advancement Office came up with a solution to this problem. There is a plan for a monument to go up somewhere on campus explaining who the class was and how much they gave.
“This is a way to leave something tangible behind and at the same time [something] intangible,” said Haslel Toruno, vice president of the 2012 class.
So far the class has raised $861.74 for the Affinity Fund.