CLEVELAND, Tenn. - Gov. Bill Haslam received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from Lee University on Saturday before giving the commencement address to the winter 2012 graduating class.
"Lee University is not one of those institutions which awards honorary doctorates freely or indiscriminately," university President Paul Conn said at the event.
"In fact, we have awarded such a degree only 14 times in the last 25 years, only once before to a commencement speaker, and never to an elected official."
A Doctor of Laws degree is the honor most commonly given to recognize accomplishment in government, according to a Lee University news release that described Haslam as "an exemplary public servant."
That fits with Lee's mission, Conn said in the release. "Our graduates this weekend have been taught the importance of service since they arrived on campus as freshmen."
During the presentation, Conn said Haslam "consistently has resisted the temptation to approach complex problems by ideological posturing" and he models a "genuine Christian discipleship which respects the diverse culture of a pluralistic society while still embracing unapologetically his personal faith."
Haslam urged the graduating class to strongly consider getting involved in public service in some way.
"It seemed to me the principle holds that good government is really one of the best ways to serve folks," Haslam said. To illustrate, he told of some of his experiences with ineffective or corrupt foreign governments while serving on the board of a relief organization.
The governor also recommended the graduates enter the workplace and the world with a commitment to excellence and truth and a sense of humility and grace. He asked them to bear their Christian faith as a gift and not wield it as a club.
Haslam congratulated Lee University for being selected to provide a 200-member festival choir for the presidential inauguration in January.
The ceremony was also remarkable for its number of graduates: a record 275, according to a news release.
"We're not sure why we have 50 more graduates than normal at this winter commencement," said Caroyln Dirksen, vice president of academic affairs.
"It could have something to with the larger summer school enrollments or our advanced placement students. Regardless, it's a healthy number."