Fifty years ago, 154 eager college students took a leap of faith when they ventured to Lynchburg, Virginia to enroll in a new college. There were no dormitories, no state-of-the-art college facilities, and no established sports programs. Just four full-time teachers, a preacher, and a bold vision to change the world for God.
Inspired by Dr. Jerry Falwell’s vision of Forming Champions for Christ, that inaugural class became the foundation of what Liberty University is today: a fully accredited, world-class institution featuring 20 NCAA Division I athletic programs, a sprawling campus, and more than 250,000 alumni filling mission around the world. At its inception, Liberty offered 25 degree programs. Today, students can choose from over 700 programs ranging from certificate to doctoral; more than 450 programs are offered online.
For five decades, Liberty University overcame turbulent odds, experienced drastic growth in academics and athletics, and, most importantly, confirmed Falwell’s burning dream of instituting a bold and unapologetic Christian worldview in all aspects of development. The mission remains unchanged – and more alive than ever.
The university kicked off its Golden Year celebration at the start of the fall 2021 semester, just as it welcomed a record freshman class. Campus buildings, sports facilities, lampposts and billboards were adorned with 50e Birthday banners. A website, Liberty.edu/50, was launched with a historical timeline, news and events, and alumni memorabilia, including videos with FOX News anchor Shannon Bream (’93), former NFL running back Rashad Jennings (’09) and Miss Virginia 2021 Tatum Sheppard (’20). A memorial book was sold, chronicling the history of Liberty University with photos from all decades (the books are still available for purchase online). Liberty Journal magazine published a special issue 50e The anniversary issue and student newspaper The Champion printed a “Year of Jubilee” edition.
The anniversary was celebrated at numerous events on campus. After each Flames touchdown, a large “LU 50” flag was carried through Williams Stadium and marching band members formed a “50” as part of their routines.
During Homecoming in October, the School of Music celebrated by bringing in alumni from across the decades for a 50th anniversary concert. Guy Penrod, Mark Lowry and others joined the scene at the Thomas Road Baptist Church sanctuary. Video messages from other notable alumni, including Toby McKeehan (TobyMac, 1988) and Michael Tait (1989), who formed DC Talk at Liberty, played throughout the night.
At Homecoming, Liberty announced plans to build the Jerry Falwell Center to honor the founder’s legacy and the university’s commitment to preserving its Christian mission. The center, which will be located directly behind the Hancock Welcome Center, will give students and guests an immersive look at the university’s faith, vision and purpose. The center is expected to open in 2023.
Also during Homecoming, the university opened a Legacy of Faith self-guided historical walk. Starting at the Hancock Welcome Center, guests can follow in the footsteps of Liberty founder Dr. Jerry Falwell on a walking tour of nine campus stops that mark milestones in Liberty’s history. Now a permanent feature of the campus marked by footprint engravings made from a pair of Falwell’s shoes, the tour is open to all guests. In the school’s early years, Falwell walked and prayed on the grounds, so the visit literally serves as a stroll down memory lane to reflect on the years of faith and prayer that forged Liberty University.
In April, the entire three-story facade of DeMoss Hall was transformed into a video screen as the college launched a multimedia presentation. Each night, the resounding voice of Liberty’s founder, the late Dr. Jerry Falwell, echoed from the loudspeakers as images of the school’s 50-year history were projected onto the building, helping to tell the story of the miracle. on Liberty Mountain. (Presentation is underway and the creative team is working on updating the show for the fall.)
The launch, held May 5-7, was the grand finale of the anniversary celebration. Keynote speaker and leadership expert John Maxwell encouraged graduates to embrace failure and understand the true meaning of success. President Jerry Prevo reminded graduates of the rich spiritual heritage of which they were a part at Liberty and their role in advancing the mission.
“Some people doubted that a small Christian college built on a farm in these foothills could ever have much impact, but the doubts disappeared,” Prevo said. “For five decades, Liberty has sent graduates into the world, making an impact for God. Just like Liberty sent Champions for Christ for nearly 50 years, today, Class of 2022, Liberty has been sending you to be Champions for Christ. We send you to defend God.
As all signs and banners are removed and the anniversary celebration draws to a close, Liberty University stands ready to impact the world for Christ for another 50 years.
The Board of Directors released this “Vision for the Future”, as printed in the memorial book:
“Over the next 50 years – and every year thereafter – Liberty will bring people back to the mission of Forming Champions for Christ. This will be the unspoken message behind every lesson, the driving force behind every board decision. He will guide the vision of this university in its relentless pursuit of Christ by giving, being, and doing the best for the glory of God.
By Forming Champions for Christ, Liberty University will continue to nurture professionals from all walks of life who are passionate about meeting man’s greatest need: salvation through Jesus Christ. And by remaining faithful, future generations of faculty, staff and students will carry on the mission just as this generation does today and Jerry Falwell Sr. 50 years ago:
> By turning to the Lord in prayer, because “nothing of importance for eternity is accomplished outside of prayer”.
> By discovering God’s call and preparing for it with excellence.
> Persevering through doubt and despair, through good times and bad, through trials and temptations until every student – now and in the future – becomes a Christ-centered man or woman with the values, knowledge and skills essential to impacting the world for Jesus Christ.
God willing, in 50 years the Liberty University community will stand on this same hallowed ground and look across the campus once seen only by faith. We pray that they will see a world transformed by those who came to this mountain and were eternally transformed by it.
Relive the celebration and learn more about Liberty University’s history at Liberty.edu/50.