Two years ago Verlyn Benson, associate professor of Technology at Pacific Union College, hunted for graduate schools, searching for a university that would not only offer a strong technology program but also a graduation ceremony on a day other than the Sabbath.
"I did not participate in my Master's ceremony because it took place on the Sabbath," says Benson. "So it was one of the things I looked for."
To his surprise, the University of Northern Iowa bulletin listed a Friday graduation during the summer. Days after he enrolled, the school's decision to cancel summer commencement exercises was announced. The remaining two ceremonies would proceed on Saturdays.
When it came time to select a graduate studies committee, Benson carefully surveyed the possibilities before choosing Dr. Ervin Dennis as the committee chair and his advisor. But Benson let it be known that there was a special clause that accompanied his request.
"I knew it was an honor for the advisor to confer the degree during graduation," says Benson. "But I told him that would not be possible with me, since I am a Seventh-day Adventist."
Although disappointed, Dr. Dennis replied that it would not stop him from chairing the committee. Over the next 2 years the pair worked closely together, and on May 8, 1998, Benson presented his dissertation, "Oil Consumption of a Production Engine Using the Sulfur-Trace Method."
"People kept asking me if I was sure about not participating in graduation," remembers Benson. "I said, 'There's no question about it. I'm going to church tomorrow."
That weekend, Dr. Dennis invited Benson to his house for a thoughtfully prepared vegetarian supper. Impressed with Benson's spiritual commitment, Dennis asked about the Adventist educational system, admitting that he would love to visit PUC.
"He asked me to consider a simple family and friends ceremony," says Benson. "And he wanted to fly to California to be present."
What began as a small, private gathering flourished into a special commencement program in Paulin Hall on September 27, to be attended by President Maxwell and PUC's academic dean, Charles Bell. Dr. Dennis officially presented the degree and Benson's daughter, Genaida, performed a piano piece she had been secretly practicing as a tribute. Approximately 150 friends showed their support, many relating their stories of missed ceremonies because of their taking place on the Sabbath. After a speech of response given by Benson, the guests rose to their feet in applause.
"I was just overwhelmed," says Benson. "All I was trying to do was honor God and instead He turned the blessings around and honored me."
On the evening after the university's official commencement exercises, Benson recalls watching the news for a segment on the ceremony. Amongst the mass of other graduates, he would have been just another face. It was nothing in comparison to what he received in its place.
"There is no substitute for doing what is right." says Benson. "The Lord will reward a thousand times."