Conn Addresses Grads at First Outdoor Ceremony Since 2018
Lee University held its 184th graduation ceremonies Saturday with Dr. Paul Conn delivering the commencement address before a record number of graduates, their friends and families, and many others from the Lee community. More than 600 graduates earned degrees from more than 100 different programs.
The colorful outdoor ceremony was staged on Lee’s South Quad field on Church Street. A massive stage had been erected, along with 5,000 folding chairs, to accommodate the crowd. In addition to the graduates, over 200 faculty marched in the processional, along with the school’s Board of Directors.
Saturday’s graduation is the largest of three held each year at Lee, and the only commencement staged outside each year. This was the first outdoor ceremony at Lee since 2018, due to a rainout in 2019 and Covid concerns in 2020 and 2021.
On Friday night before commencement, the graduates and their families gathered in Paul Dana Walker Arena for a student-led Commissioning Service. Five senior speakers told their stories, and the entire graduating class marched across the stage to receive symbolic Bibles, each individually embossed and inscribed, which is a popular Lee tradition.
Music for the commencement program was performed by Lee’s Wind Ensemble and the Lee Singers.
“Transformational leaders passionately and lovingly inspire others to genuinely care for one another while working together to reach a compelling vision that transforms lives,” said President Dr. Mark L. Walker as he introduced Conn. “The Lee University that exists today is the result of such leadership, the leadership of Dr. Conn.”
In his address, Conn shared that if he could give the graduates anything, he would pray that they have four things: hunger, gratitude, courage, and optimism.
“Stay hungry for accomplishment, hungry to make this a world of greater justice, and hungry to push your own limits…a righteous hunger to rise to that individual dream that God has given you,” said Conn. “Stay grateful to God and those ‘close to home,’ whether it’s parents, professors, or others who have sacrificed or poured into you. I pray you would operate in this world without fear, that you would be bold in who you are and be bold in believing what you believe. I challenge you to hear God for yourself and find your own path forward… ‘to not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.’ Scripture goes on to remind us that ‘at all times God will give us all that we need to accomplish all things.’ That is God-centered optimism.”
“Lastly,” Conn said, “I hope we at Lee have taught you to ‘expect something great,’ lean hard on the promises of God, and be intelligently, joyfully optimistic, for that’s what authentic faith is.”
Conn has served as Lee’s chancellor since August 2020, after serving a 34-year tenure as the university’s president. His presidency is characterized by revolutionary expansion alongside a determination to remain true to its original core values. He has won numerous awards during his tenure and has been elected to the governing boards of many national and regional higher education organizations. Meanwhile, the school has grown in size, quality, reputation, and reach, with enrollment and physical campus size increasing fivefold, 30 building projects, a tenfold increase in operating budget, and status as one of Cleveland’s largest employers.
During his Lee presidency, Conn has personally conferred 21,420 degrees to students.
Prior to Saturday’s ceremony, there was a hooding for students earning master’s degrees and a pinning service for nursing students, along with numerous special events hosted by academic schools and departments.
To view the graduation events in full, visit leeu.live.
In addition to the May commencement, the university conducts small graduation events each July and December. Approximately 1,000 graduates receive degrees each year.