In an emotional conclusion to Abilene Christian University’s busiest weekend of the spring, two graduates accepted the university’s most prestigious alumni awards on Sunday at a luncheon in the Hunter Welcome Center.
University president Dr. Phil Schubert (’91) gave Dr. Marcus Nelson (’94) the Young Alumnus of the Year Award then honored Cmdr. David Bynum (’84) as the Outstanding Alumnus of the Year. The ceremony featured a member of the Texas Supreme Court, an impressive guitar performance from Bynum’s son, a surprise gag gift from Bynum’s roommate, and some good-natured trash talk between Nelson, Schubert and alumni relations director Craig Fisher (’92), who were ACU undergraduates together.
“I’ve been to a few of these occasions,” Schubert said as he concluded the program, “but I’ve never been to one like today’s.”
Nelson, superintendent of the Laredo Independent School District since 2009, has helped turn around one of the state’s largest and poorest districts. His tribute speakers included Jeff Boyd (’83), newly appointed to the Texas Supreme Court. When Boyd was chief of staff to Gov. Rick Perry, he submitted Nelson’s name for consideration as education commissioner.
“I can’t tell you what pride I felt” as a fellow ACU Wildcat interviewed for the position, Boyd told the audience. “I’m going to be watching his career continue to rise. I’m proud to know him.”
Nelson grew emotional several times as he described the impact ACU had made on his life. Describing the “joy bus” ministry to his low-income San Antonio neighborhood that allowed him to attend MacArthur Park Church of Christ as a child, he said he would likely never have come to ACU without it.
“If I wasn’t introduced to ACU, I don’t know where I’d be today,” he said, pausing to wipe his eyes as he noted he had met his wife, Julie (Dickens ’93), as a student. “When I think about my wife and child, I don’t know where I’d be. … It is overwhelming to me to be a part of such a fine university.”
Nelson also made sure to have some fun at the expense of his former classmates, noting that he was a pledge when they were members of Galaxy and questioning whether their position on how social club pledges are treated has changed now that they hold positions in the administration. Fisher said he didn’t know what the imposing Nelson, a high school football star who easily tops 6 feet tall and 300 pounds, was talking about. “Whatever Marcus wanted to do, we said, ‘OK!’ ” Fisher retorted.
Bynum, soon to be a Navy captain and director of operations for the Navy chief of chaplains office in the Pentagon, was more subdued – but his ACU roommate, Darrel Andrews (’84) was not, presenting the straight-laced Bynum with a miniature replica of the infamous “leg lamp” from the 1983 comedy A Christmas Story to commemorate the “major award” Bynum was receiving.
Capt. Bill Perdue, a fellow Navy chaplain who served with Bynum from 1998-2001, helped place in context some of Bynum’s accomplishments: one of only six active-duty Navy chaplains affiliated with the Churches of Christ, and the lone Navy chaplain in 2012 selected to attend the National War College.
“The military takes you to places where you cannot get to Hilltop Church of Christ,” Perdue said. “It’s a high and holy calling to do ministry. … I am honored today to celebrate with you and your family your wonderful career.”
David’s son Micah, an ACU freshman, paid tribute to his father with a self-composed guitar piece entitled “Broken Silence,” an impressive performance that wowed the audience. The men gripped each other in a prolonged hug on stage before Bynum accepted his plaque from Schubert.
“It has taken me aback to receive this award,” Bynum said, joining Nelson in crediting ACU with the well-rounded preparation he needed to minister to the young men and women of the Navy. “If all you ever get here is an education, you’ve missed the greater part.”