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A Place of Honor: Baylor University’s Heritage Edition Leads Presidential Processions During Commencement Ceremonies

Baylor's Eric Ames reflects on the inclusion of The Saint John’s Bible in graduation ceremonies

Posted June 8, 2022 in Education

The parallels between a college graduation ceremony and a church service are unmistakable: the ritualized order of events, the regalia, and the use of music and spoken word to convey the importance of the proceedings all speak to the power and reverence of these important events. The connection between the academic achievement of a graduating student and the uniquely Christian environment offered at Baylor University may be best illustrated by the university’s decision to include The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition in its graduation ceremonies, a visible symbol of the university’s commitment to placing authentically Christian ideals at the forefront of a Baylor education.

Dean of Libraries Jeffry Archer sits with a volume from Baylor University’s Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible prior to commencement ceremonies on May 13, 2022. Photo courtesy Baylor University Photography.

But The Saint John’s Bible wasn’t included as an afterthought, or a token nod to Baylor’s deep roots as a Baptist university. In fact, since 2021, Baylor’s copy of the Heritage Edition (number 105) leads the procession onto the floor of the Ferrell Center, where all graduation ceremonies are held, carried at the head of the Presidential Procession by the Dean of Libraries. Jeffry Archer, who has served in that role since 2020, inaugurated the practice at the August 2021 commencement ceremony and has carried a volume in every ceremony since.

“The unique beauty and rich symbolism of The Saint John’s Bible has inspired our campus community from the moment it arrived,” Archer said. “Its representations of world cultures, the inclusivity of its depictions of Biblical peoples, and an engaging modern aesthetic make it immediately relevant to a twenty-first century student body in a way unlike any other sacred work in our collections.”

The inclusion of a volume of The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition was born from a desire to replace the Baylor Mace, which had led graduation processions since 1974, with an element that better represented the university’s commitment to unity and reconciliation among an increasingly diverse study body. The mace includes elements – such as a sword presented to a relative of Baylor namesake Judge R.E.B. Baylor by Andrew Jackson and a cane that belonged to former Baylor President Rufus C. Burleson – that represent painful historical connections, particularly for African American members of the Baylor family. The decision to retire the Mace was made as part of a suite of recommendations made by the Commission on Historic Campus Representations in the spring of 2021.

A volume from Baylor University’s Heritage Edition of The Saint John’s Bible rests on its custom stand – crafted at Saint John’s Abbey Woodworking – as part of the stage setup for commencement exercises on May 13, 2022. Baylor University President Linda Livingstone, Ph.D., delivers her address at the podium directly beside the Bible. Photo courtesy Baylor University Photography

The recommendation to replace the Mace with a Bible from Baylor’s collection was enthusiastically endorsed by the President’s Council and confirmed by the University’s Board of Regents, and Dean Archer knew immediately which version was ideally suited for the task. “The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition was my first and only choice,” Archer said. “It is the perfect size, the striking red leather cover draws the eye, its themes of inclusivity and connection are perfect for a commencement ceremony. And the fact that it stays on a special stand all through the ceremony, right next to the president, ensures everyone in attendance sees the significance of God’s Word to our university’s overall mission of creating graduates destined for worldwide leadership and service.”

As Baylor continues the difficult but necessary work to address and repair hurts experienced by underrepresented students in its past, finding new ways to include unifying symbols is a priority for university leadership. Placing The Saint John’s Bible Heritage Edition at the head of the President’s Procession at each commencement ceremony is an outward and visible symbol of that commitment, replacing the painful deeds of the past with a hopeful vision for the future.

“If we are called to create alumni from a uniquely Christian research institution, I can’t think of a better way to reinforce that concept in our new graduates than including this powerful symbol of hope and grace and reconciliation in our commencement ceremony,” Archer said. “I believe our Heritage Edition will find an honored place at the head of this procession for decades to come.”

Eric S. Ames, M.A., PCM is the Assistant Director for Marketing and Communications, ITS and University Libraries at Baylor University. He also serves as an adjunct lecturer in the Department of Museum Studies at Baylor.