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By the Numbers: Class Project is Fascinating

Spring Commencement 2012: A Family Affair Kelly Robinson
May. 4, 2012

There are certain aspects of the ritual of commencement ceremonies that goes unnoticed each and every time such an event comes along. The behind-the-scenes happenings that engulf that particular weekend of each semester are nothing new to those that work and facilitate graduation exercises at Lubbock Christian University. This coming Friday and Saturday, though, will be different and exciting for some unusual reasons.

For the first time ever there will be separate commencement ceremonies for graduate students and those that are receiving undergraduate degrees. The ceremony for those receiving a Graduate Degree will take place at 7:30 pm on Friday (May 4th) in the Baker Conference Center, while those receiving Undergraduate Degrees will be honored Saturday (May 5th) in the Rip Griffin Center. Dr. L. Ken Jones, Chancellor of LCU, will be bringing the commencement address at Saturday’s ceremony. Both 2012 Commencement ceremonies are being web-cast live, free of charge. You can watch via computer or IPhone/IPod Touch by following the link at

Another somewhat out of the ordinary aspect of the graduation ceremonies this weekend will be the special “family affair” theme to the occasion. Two separate families with long-standing affiliation with Lubbock Christian University will see parents and their children walking the commencement stage as members of the spring 2012 graduation class.

Sharlan Proper and her daughter Christina Proper Plank will both be graduating with Bachelor of Arts Degrees in Humanities. Christina's emphasis is Theatre and she has already been appointed to the board of C.A.T.S. Theater in Lubbock, written a grant proposal for them and has been one of their serial actors. Her senior project included the grant proposal and writing a play in which the characters left the pages and became conversational with her. Sharlan studied with an emphasis in Technical Communication. She, too, enjoys writing grant proposals and working on the campus website for MarCom. Her senior research was Copyright in the Digital Age, which helped her navigate the audio and visual minefield of the Internet.

“I'm excited that Christina was able to keep to task and graduate in four years in spite of some stumbling blocks along the way,” said Sharlan of her daughter, proudly. “Because she was doing so well, we had a conversation before I came to school, wanting to make sure that my attendance wouldn't add extra stress to her academic schedule. Then, when I found out that I could graduate in the same class with her, she made me feel really welcome to be part of her class. I'm overwhelmed by who she is and that we get to graduate together.”

The two women have a unique and lasting relationship that traces back educationally to the fact that Christina was a homeschooled student. The family completed the most taxing part of homeschooling before Sharlan came back to school. Christina is the youngest child in the family and had a semester or two of college under her belt before her mom returned. Seeing each other in chapel three or four days a week kept mom, in particular, going as they both continued focusing on Spring 2012 as the culmination of THIS goal.

When visiting with Sharlan about how this experience has transformed her relationship with Christina there is no denying there is an extraordinary emotional bond that even enhances what a mother and daughter already have.

“When I realized Christina and I were slated to graduate in the same class, I approached her and said I'd stall my graduation until summer so that we could celebrate her in May 2012 with no distractions,” recalls Sharlan. “Christina said, ‘If you're not graduating with me, then I'm not walking.’ I don't know that I've ever felt SO loved and SO accepted. I don't often tear up, but she got me.”

It’s a safe bet that those tears will be in abundance again on Saturday as the mom and daughter share a time that will obviously be a momentous occasion. They won’t be alone, however, as the Parnell family will see not only mom (Shelley) walk the stage to receive her Master’s Degree, but her two sons, Jordan (Master’s Degree) and Jacob (Bachelor’s Degree) will also be receiving diplomas this weekend.

Shelley Parnell is the Early Recruitment Counselor and International Student Advisor in the Lubbock Christian University Admissions Department. She and her husband, Tony, who is an Associate Professor of Social Work and the Director of Field Education in the Department of Social Work and Criminal Justice, have worked at LCU for nearly 20 years. That tie to the university doesn’t escape the emotions of the coming weekend, especially for dad/husband, who will enjoy watching it all take place.

“It's incredible when I stop and truly consider what's taking place,” said a proud and reflective Tony Parnell. “Would you believe that we did not plan it this way? I've been involved in nearly 40 graduation ceremonies during my tenure at LCU … those on Friday and Saturday will no doubt rank as my all time favorites! My family and I are blessed beyond measure to be a part of LCU. My sons have basically grown up here, Shelley and I have worked here for nearly 20 years … so, to see them work diligently, humbly and faithfully on their educational endeavors just makes sense, when it happens at the Life Changing University. What a blessing!”

While mom and dad are looking forward to the weekend for many of the same reasons that Sharlan Proper is, Jordan Parnell is especially proud to be part of such a benchmark occasion with regard to his family.

“I am so proud of my family and what they have accomplished,” said Jordan, who will receive a Master of Science in Leadership Degree after earning his Bachelor’s from LCU previously. “I cannot wait for my mom (Master of Science in Leadership) and brother Bachelor of Arts in Digital Media and Application) to cross the stage and receive that hard-earned diploma. They have both worked tirelessly over the past few years and deserve all of the accolades and congratulations that will come their way. I think it is outstanding that all of us will be walking the stage at LCU on the same weekend. I feel very honored to share the stage with two of the greatest people that I have ever met. The whole event is great for my family. I am glad that we all get to share in this important day.”

The importance of the weekend, the magnitude of what sharing such a momentous occasion with loved ones means and the tremendous accomplishment that this feat is for all of those involved will certainly not go without a plethora of emotional experiences.

“There are no words to express how proud I am of ‘my boys’!” said Shelley. “I am excited to share this weekend with the three people who mean the most to me. Jordan has worked so hard to finish two Master's degrees at the same time (also will graduate from the University of Texas on May 19th with a Masters of Social Work Degree). What an accomplishment! He will have the same degree as his father and his mother. How many kids can say that? Jacob is a trailblazer for a brand new degree at LCU. He is so very talented and I am thrilled that he found a degree that highlights his passions. I am so proud of the footprints he is leaving at LCU. I have experienced graduation many times throughout my years at LCU and I dreamed of watching my boys walk across the stage. I never imagined I would have the privilege of joining them.”

Of course, the bystander in all of this “graduation hoopla” is dad, Tony. His pride and his excitement for the trio of family members he will see honored this weekend is hard to hide.


“I am experiencing a mix of emotions … I am at once a proud husband and father,” says Tony. “I am elated and already looking forward to what lies ahead for each of them in God's master plan … I am also relieved that most of their (and my) burden of stress will diminish greatly after Saturday!”

Stress relief and graduation exercises are often mentioned together, no doubt about it. As it pertains to this particular commencement weekend, though, the thoughts of family and pride seem to be much more prevalent.

“I'm planning to take it all in,” said Tony in looking ahead to the weekend, “ … take a few deep breaths, relax and enjoy the sights and sounds of each ceremony, being very present in the moment … while also being very mindful of the blessings that these events represent to each member of my family. I plan to be smiling often!”

And as the smiles are wide and bright there will be many thoughts running through the mind of Shelley as she reflects on the most fulfilling aspect of she and her sons graduating together.

“We did it together! We have supported each other … held each other accountable, rejoiced with each other, and even cried together,” Shelley says proudly. “It has made us stronger. Our family has always shared a unique closeness because we do not have family that lives near. We have only had each other. We have always depended on each other for encouragement, so I think it is very cool that we could all experience this event as a family. Jordan and I will graduate on Friday night. We are a bit disappointed that we won’t be able to participate in the same ceremony as Jacob. Jordan will be hooding Jacob on Saturday. This is a prime example of the unspoken brother bond between the two boys. They have always been close and they definitely have each other’s back. Their bond and closeness is one attribute that I am most proud of.”

On a weekend where many, many families will enjoy happiness and pride will be running rampant throughout the campus, it’s clear when one visits with Shelley Parnell that there really is much, much more to it than just simply getting that college degree.

“It is unclear what God has in store for us but whatever it is … I pray that He will be glorified in all we do,” Shelley succinctly says. “I pray that we can live our life so that LCU is reflected in a positive light wherever we go and whatever we do. We will always be ambassadors for the Life Changing University. I am excited to see the amazing plans He has in store for us. Each of us is ready for the next chapter, so let the adventure begin!

Congratulations to all of the Spring 2012 graduates in both ceremonies and especially to the Proper and Parnell families, who all figure to be quite happy throughout the weekend events.

Last Updated: Aug 05, 2014