In 1984 principal Ray Wilkinson was struggling to come up with a theme for Pacific Adventist College’s first graduation service. Eventually he settled on “Educate to Serve”. It has been the institution’s official motto for the past 30 years.
That first graduation saw just a handful of students walk the aisle, perhaps less than 10. Today, the college is a university with an enrolment of almost 1100. Pacific Adventist University (PAU) is one of Papua New Guinea’s most respected tertiary institutions and is unable to keep up with demand, turning away hundreds of applicants every year.
So much has changed over those 30 years, but our core has remained the same . . . It remains that our number one reason for being at PAU is our relationship with Jesus Christ.
“So much has changed over those 30 years,” said vice-chancellor Professor Ben Thomas during anniversary celebrations held at PAU, July 25-27, “but our core has remained the same. We are still focused on service. We are still focused on wholistic education. It remains that our number one reason for being at PAU is our relationship with Jesus Christ.”
Dr Ella Simmons.
PAU is still the only university operated by the Seventh-day Adventist Church in the South Pacific region. The growth that has occurred during the past three decades is continuing, with midwife training facilities opened this year and a new School of Business building in mid-construction. New programs continue to be added, including the first postgraduate degree, a Master of Theology. During the anniversary weekend, Dr Jeff Crocombe, a senior lecturer in PAU’s School of Theology, announced plans to establish an Adventist heritage centre at PAU, with a particular focus on the history of the Church in the Pacific islands.
The 30th anniversary celebrations brought together past staff and students, as well as church leaders from around the South Pacific Division (SPD), who chose PAU as the venue for this year’s Administrators Council. Sabbath’s keynote speaker was General Conference general vice president Dr Ella Simmons, an educator by profession and the first woman to serve as a general vice president. She urged the congregation to answer God’s call together with the prophet Isaiah: “Here am I. Send me!”
Prof Ben Thomas shows Nord and Ella Simmons around campus.
“Pacific Adventist University has made a big difference in the Pacific region,” said Pastor Thomas Davai, director of Student Services and chair of the anniversary coordination committee. “Many of those young people who have gone out have become prominent leaders in their various fields.” Pastor Davai also echoed sentiments expressed by PAU alumni, who said employers expect a higher standard of professionalism from PAU graduates—“not only academically, but in behaviour, attitudes, work ethic and commitment”.
Dr Barry Oliver, PAU’s chancellor and SPD president, unveiled a commemorative plaque at the student centre and addressed the opening meeting. “Thirty-five years ago, when I was a young district director in Port Moresby, we came to survey this land,” he said. “It was just a dream—we were just starting to plan. Every year when I come to a graduation there’s a lump in my throat as I reflect on the influence this very special place has had on Papua New Guinea and the South Pacific—the Church, the economy and the community.”
Kent Kingston is assistant editor for Adventist Record.