Briarwood Class of 2022 becomes school’s 50th graduating class

Published 12:19 pm Wednesday, May 18, 2022

By EMILY SPARACINO | Staff Writer

BIRMINGHAM – As the Rev. Westby Anderson spoke to Briarwood Christian School’s 144 graduates at their commencement ceremony on Sunday, May 15, he shared advice he would have given to himself as a Briarwood graduate in 2003.

“I would get off this stage, go right down there and get right in my 18-year-old face and say, ‘Listen up. You do not leave this room, you don’t walk out those doors, unless you close with Christ today, unless you plead with him to save and rescue you from your sins,’” Anderson said. “I never saw my desperate need for rescue, my desperate need to be saved. I wanted to be the hero of my life. I didn’t realize I was the villain, I was the bad guy, and I needed to be rescued.”

After graduating high school, Anderson completed Army ROTC at Auburn University and commissioned as an infantry officer, earning the Distinguished Military Graduate honor in 2007.

After completing the Infantry Basic Officer Leaders Course and Ranger School, Anderson deployed with the 101st Airborne Division to Iraq in 2008. As a senior platoon leader, he deployed again in 2010 to Afghanistan, where he was promoted to captain.

But when he returned home, Anderson said he turned to alcohol to numb the pain of his experiences overseas and sought more accomplishments, such as earning the coveted Green Beret in 2013.

“There was still this gaping, unfulfilled hole in my life,” he said.

It wasn’t until Anderson got in trouble with alcohol and saw the possibility of his accomplishments being stripped away from him that he shifted his focus.

“I finally surrendered to the Lord,” Anderson said. “That’s when I met my Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”

Anderson ended his active duty service in August 2016 to pursue a Master of Divinity from Beeson Divinity School with the goal of re-entering active duty service as an Army chaplain.

Anderson advised the members of the Class of 2022 – Briarwood’s 50th graduating class – to remember the mission they are being called to fulfill.

“As you make your final preparations to go out into the world, whatever battlefield God is calling you to, I challenge all of you (to) sell out for Christ, your good captain,” Anderson said.

Valedictorian David Houston urged his classmates not to neglect faith, wellbeing and community for worldly things that will not bring lasting satisfaction.

“The things you pursue, they can be helpful, but if they become your idol, they will be poisonous and you will not be happy,” Houston said. “Being in a community of those who imitate Christ’s love and sacrifice, to experience that love and share it with others, to know Christ’s sacrifice and personally accept it, that will bring you true satisfaction and lasting eternal contentment.”

Houston challenged the graduates to find a supportive community of believers and be a blessing to others.

“I implore you (to) surround yourself with godly people who can shine lights into your own life, and you yourself shine brightly for all to see and pursue your calling,” he said.

Salutatorian Lacey Wesson said Briarwood’s students, teachers and administrators are supportive of each other through good and bad times.

“People often refer to our student body and faculty as the Briarwood family, and while this may be cliché, the sentiment rings true,” Wesson said. “Like every family, we’ve had our ups and downs, but what makes it special is that no matter the circumstance, we faced it together.”

Wesson said she felt this familial bond when she lost her dad during her sophomore year, when the COVID-19 pandemic started and at many other points throughout her high school career.

“When I think of all of these memories I just shared, one word consistently comes to mind: love,” Wesson said. “Briarwood Christian School, and especially the Class of 2022, is flooded with and characterized by a special kind of love that is rarely found in high schools.”

High School Principal Dr. Shawn Brower also emphasized the love the graduates have shown each other.

“Who could even imagine that we would have a 50-year graduating class as amazing as this group?” Brower said. “I think you all know it, but I dearly love you, and you are a remarkable class. It’s an incredible honor and privilege to be graduating Briarwood with you, if you will.”

Brower described the Class of 2022 as a “strong academic class,” earning two perfect ACT scores and more than $7 million in scholarships.

Of the 144 graduates, 78 students began at Briarwood in the first grade.