Members of the Howard Payne University Class of 2012 were urged at commencement Saturday to serve wherever their callings lead them, whether that turns out to be as a CEO of a corporation or a pastor at a rural church so small it can’t be found on a map.

“Most of you are going to have to start at the bottom,” Dr. David Lowrie Jr., chairman of the board of trustees of HPU and pastor of First Baptist Church in El Paso. “Don’t be discouraged, you can still change the world. I would encourage you to not give up on achieving your dream.”

Lowrie underscored his point by relating stories of people, like winning coaches, who could not have been successful without people who followed their lead.

“Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven,” Lowrie said, using Scripture from Matthew 5.

“You are the ones who will light up the world.”

Lowrie added that college “is a gift, it’s an investment. But at this point, you have to build a life.”

John Musick of the HPU Class of 2000, vice president of the university alumni association, welcomed the graduates into those ranks and encouraged them to remember the many good things they experienced as HPU students.

“Remember the first day of class… remember the coffee breaks and the late nights studying… remember your favorite teacher who invested in you… in short, remember everything,” Musick said.

“It is time for you to create your own lives,” Music added. “My advice to you is not to hesitate to step over that threshold. You are able to accomplish anything, while also overcoming everything.”

Among the morning’s highlights during the ceremony at the Brownwood Coliseum was the conferring of an honorary Doctor of Divinity to retired faculty member Dr. Robert Smith.

HPU President Dr. Bill Ellis presented the degree, congratulating Smith on working far beyond the normal age of retirement.

“This university loves you,” Ellis whispered to Smith off-mike.

Smith, who was born in San Antonio, attended Trinity University in San Antonio for a year and joined the Air Force in 1943. After completing the pilot training and earning his wings in 1945, he was married to Ethelyn the same year he entered B-29 training. After World War II, he re-entered civilian life and attended Centenary College in Shreveport, La., where he earned a degree in business administration and a major in accounting.

He turned down opportunities to become a major oil company executive as well as a chance to become an American Airlines pilot to instead attend Southwest Institute of Art in Shreveport.

Smith worked for the Shreveport Times and Engraving as a commercial artist. But as he became more active in his church, he said in an earlier interview with the Bulletin that he “recognized the call to the ministry.” He practiced his faith as a lay preacher and subsequently attended seminary. He went to seminary at Southwest Baptist Theological Seminary, and became the pastor for four consecutive churches over a period of 35 years: the First Baptist Church of Crossett, Ark.; the First Baptist Church of Pine Bluff, Ark.; the First Baptist Church of Houston; and the First Baptist Church of Pompano Beach, Fla.

By incorporating his gifts of art and ministry, Smith developed an innovative way to preach “Sermons in Art” and become widely known for his “Chalk Talks.”

He came to Howard Payne’s School of Christian Studies in 1984, and is currently Distinguished Professor Emeritus of Christian Studies.

The Smiths have been married for 67 years.

Ellis conferred degrees along with Lowrie and other university administrators to 154 students, including 150 who attainted bachelor’s degrees and four who earned Master of Education in Instructional Leadership degrees.