Clyde’s Commencement

The Commencement of President Emeritus Clyde Cook: A Memorial Convocation was broadcast live via webcast from Chase Gynamsium on the Biola campus yesterday.  It began with a processional of faculty and dignitaries filing into the gym in their respective caps and gowns.  Dr. Barry Corey, president of Biola, opened the convocation with some notable comments, including (as near as my notes reveal- quotes may not be verbatim):

“It was never about Clyde.  It was always about Jesus. … When we leave this room, let us be motivated not to say what a great man, but what a great God.  Clyde would’ve wanted that.”  Dr. Corey explained that a “commencement” in the educational sense is both an end as well as a beginning.  So it is with Clyde’s life.  The April 21 service commemorated the end of Dr. Cook’s physical life and the beginning of his life in eternity with Christ.

The inimitable Ron Hafer, university chaplain, opened in prayer after a humorous anecdote regarding playing basketball with Clyde, who reportedly quipped, “Ron may be short but he makes up for it by being slow and clumsy.”  Hafer said he knew Clyde for 50 years and joked that this may be the only time he could tell that story without Clyde correcting him.  Hafer observed, “He was a funny guy.  There should be laughter at this time.”  And there was.

Following Hafer’s prayer, a Biola men’s ensemble decked out in black coats, white bow ties and “I heart Clyde” T-shirts sang an exquisite acapella rendition of I Have Decided to Follow Jesus.

“Dr. Cook didn’t just teach content, he changed lives” recalled the next speaker, Mike Wilkins, Dean of Faculty, Talbot School of Theology.  Wilkins’ tribute included recollections from his student days at Biola when Clyde taught a class on the Book of Acts.  Wilkins noted that Clyde often brought guest speakers to class to “show how God uses ordinary people to do great work” and urged students to “take God’s calling upon your life with deadly seriousness, but don’t take yourself too seriously.”  Wilkins recalled Clyde providing advice and direction, encouraging him to pursue a Ph.D in NT Studies.  He said Clyde was “like a father or a big brother, a loyal friend who always believed in me.  He was a dedicated and loving servant-leader.”

“Precise, principled, pastoral and persevering” was how Biola Vice President of Academic Affairs (?) Wesley Willmer described Clyde.  Wilmer spoke about how Clyde started his meetings promptly, insisted upon proper grammar, spelling and punctuation, and was a “consummate statesman.”  He described Clyde as a “principled man of character” who had “a pastor’s heart,” and provided examples of Clyde’s personal kindness and compassion to others.  “On his last speech on earth he stated to endure constantly, don’t quit. … Clyde Cook was a sinner, saved by grace.  He was on a journey toward his heavenly home… Biola and each of us are better because of Clyde’s life.”

F. Douglas Pennoyer, Dean of the School of Intercultural Studies dubbed Clyde “The Great Commission Eater” and told an anecdote about a trip to Thailand he took with Clyde in which they ate “size 14 chicken feet soup” and “cossed a cultural barrier” in so doing.  “Where He leads me, I will follow, what He feeds me, I will swallow” quipped Pennoyer, a quote he apparently attributed to Clyde (the audio feed was sketchy at this point).

Former President of the International Students Association Ki Yon Kim spoke next, thanking Clyde for his “unique ability to connect with international students” and making certain that for international students and MKs, “Biola felt like home.”  Kim concluded his comments with a goodbye to Clyde in Mandarin Chinese.

I’m not sure who the next speakers was.  I either missed the identifier or it simply wasn’t posted on the webcast (the feed cut in and out quite a bit).  Near as I can tell, the man with reddish hair and glasses was Clyde’s executive assistant for 14 years.  We’ll call him “Joe.”

Joe began his comments noting that “this will go longer than a regular chapel.  Please stay.”  He spoke about the impact Clyde had on his life, which went back 20 years.  “He insisted I call him Clyde, not Dr. Cook, except in front of students or donors” he smiled.  Joe covered the four main points of one of Clyde’s favorite messages, noting that these four points were something Clyde desired to develop in Biola students:

1) Think Christianly. Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.  Evaluate your thoughts, words, and actions thru the lens of Scripture and the direction of the Holy Spirit – II Timothy 2:20-21.

2) Communicate creatively. Make the Gospel message clear, interesting, engaging.  Use illustrations, visiual aids, humor, technology and multimedia.  Examples were the famous “Clyde’s Slides” and the Pineapple Story.

3) Care compassionately.  “Clyde communicated compassion… He knew how to minister to people.  For 25 years he served as Biola’s shepherd,” said Joe.  He referenced the recorded message Clyde left behind describing what heaven is like now that he’s there.   This recording was heard at Saturday’s memorial service at E.V. Free-Fullerton.  It began with “Anna Belle, I love you,” and ended with Clyde making “one last altar call from heaven itself.”

4)  Endure constantly. Don’t give up or give in until you’re called home.  Joe spoke about Clyde’s devotion to serving God, his endurance in travel, preaching, teaching, serving, praying, and playing.  “His spirit was so big, beating so strongly for God, Biola, Anna Belle and his family.  No one ever demonstated unconditional love and support for his wife like Clyde Cook.”

Joe closed noting that in the nine months since Clyde “retired” from the Biola presidency, he traveled and ministered in Indonesia, Singapore, Korea, Hong Kong, Chicago, Arizona, Texas, and California (and others I missed).  “In `retirement’ Clyde was doing the two things he loved most: preaching the Word and promoting Biola.”

A beautiful video montage accompanied by music came next.  Footage included photos of Clyde from childhood thru his teen and basketball playing years, missionary service, wedding, overseas travel and ministry, with family, teaching in Myers Hall, hosting presidential round tables in the gym, with Anna Belle, students, basketball, at commencement exercises in cap and gown, Clyde and Anna Belle’s 50th wedding anniversary, and “I heart Clyde” T-shirts with grandchildren.  The two final photos were of Clyde from his office balcony overlooking Rose Memorial Library, and Clyde and Anna Belle in front of Metzger Hall.

The Biola Chorale sang a beautiful rendition of Praise to the Lord, the Almighty – hard to follow due to technical difficulties, but we got the gist. Dr. Jack Schwarz (?) came to the podium with “Clyde Cook loved music.  He loved hymns, and one of his favorites was He Leadeth Me.”  Dr. Schwarz led attendees in that hymn.  Click here or see my vodpod for a great acapella version of this grand old hymn by The Martins: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cf8n4ODkY7w

A brief message from Clyde’s daughter, Laura, followed in which she thanked the Biola community for its love and support and the special events of last year honoring Clyde’s retirement.  “We really feel you are an extension of our family.  He loved you all,” she said.

Son Craig expressed his “Deepest thanks and gratitude to the whole Biola community for your outpouring of love and support.  We’re saddened by the loss of my father but our hearts have been made full by all of you.”  Craig cited some of Clyde’s favorite chapel themes as those that focused on “things that last forever.”  He concluded, “Dr. Cook, Clyde, Dad – thank you for modeling an unshakeable faith, …?, a heart full or love and excellence … so we may follow in your footsteps.”

Hannah F. Lee, member of the Board of Trustees closed in prayer.  Lee said, “The Office of the President wasn’t an ivory tower for him.  He wanted to be around campus and with those You called him to serve. … Clyde led Biola for 25 years with integrity, vision, steadfastness and excellence.  Thank You for the gift and blessing You gave to each of us in having known and loved this man.”

After the Amen, a lone bagpiper played Amazing Grace and led the exodus of guests and attendees from the gymnasium into what was probably bright California sunshine!  If I recall correctly, the final video inside Chase Gymnasium was a close-up of Clyde’s cap and gown, his “Cook #9” basketball jersey, a pitch helment and a pineapple on a table display.  These items were brought in by family members and friends at the start of the service.

This concluded the live webcast feed of the Commencement of President Emeritus Clyde Cook: A Memorial Convocation.” After the service concluded, the last shot on the screen was a wide-angle shot of Clyde Cook addressing a commencement ceremony on the campus green at Metzger Hall, with the words “Well Done” super-imposed over the photo.

This was the most poignant and powerful “commencement service” I’ve ever seen.

Solo deo Gloria.

Click here to visit the official Clyde Cook Memorial website of Biola University.

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