Billy Graham in West Palm Beach: What he said at 1997 graduation

Feb 21, 2018
The Rev. Billy Graham was presented an honorary doctorate degree on Saturday, April 26, 1997, by Palm Beach Atlantic College President Paul Corts during graduation ceremonies in West Palm Beach. (Scott Wiseman/1997 Palm Beach Post file photo)

Editor’s note: One of The Rev. Billy Graham’s final visits to Palm Beach County came on Saturday, April 26, 1997, when he spoke at the spring commencement for what was then known as Palm Beach Atlantic College. Here is Post staff writer Joel Engelhardt’s story from the event, at what is now Palm Beach Atlantic University.

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To an audience of 530 graduates Saturday, the Rev. Billy Graham recalled his days as a student during World War II, where reports from the war served as a daily reminder of the brevity of life.

“Not one of us at any age has a clue as to how long we will live. You can’t count your days. But you can make your days count,” the 78-year-old evangelist said in his distinctive, rich voice.

Graham showed none of the effects of Parkinson’s disease as he breezed through a 25-minute address to 5,500 people at Palm Beach Atlantic College’s commencement at the city auditorium.

“Time is the capital we’ve been given by God to invest wisely,” he said. “The question is: Where do we invest it?”

“In people,” he boomed. “Not in projects or possessions.”

He told of his talks in the mid-1960s about starting a university in Palm Beach Gardens with insurance magnate and landowner John D. MacArthur.

While MacArthur offered financing and land, Graham said he turned him down to remain focused on evangelism. As a result, a group affiliated with the Baptist church started Palm Beach Atlantic College downtown.

Several years later, Graham, spiritual adviser to presidents, and MacArthur met at the White House.

“You made a terrible mistake,” the landowner told the evangelist. “I don’t think I made a mistake,” Graham replied, praising the new college. “I think you did,” MacArthur said and turned away.

Graham’s 21-year-old grandson, Aram Tchividjian, a graduating senior, joined him on stage as PBAC President Paul Corts presented Graham with an honorary doctor of sacred oratory degree.

Graham recounted his decision to spread God’s word. Students who follow that path will never want for work, he said.

“If you are a dedicated Christian, the whole world is open. There are plenty of jobs. For the true believer in Christ, God is at every corner.”

While doctors at the Mayo Clinic pronounced Graham fit to continue his worldwide ministries for a few more years, he spoke of death and how life is measured by how one spends one’s time.

“Death holds no terrors to me. I’m going to heaven because of what Christ did on the cross,” he said. “Are you going to spend your life or are you going to invest it?”