Hundreds of high school students will visit Bob Jones University’s campus for the annual High School Festival, held Nov. 1–4. Students from private, public and home school settings will participate in art and design, music, speech and drama, video, preaching and teaching events.
Andrew Carter, a university host in the Welcome Center who helped plan the event, said he is excited to have the students return in person. Last year’s festival used a virtual format to allow students to compete while following COVID-19 protocols. “We’re just focusing on providing the festival experience again in a safe way that works for the group sizes this year,” Carter said.
While competitors will return to campus, Carter said they will have to test negative for COVID-19 before arriving. BJU also partnered with local hotels to give the competitors discounted rates instead of having them stay in the residence hall.
This year’s festival features several changes. The preaching conference, which has always distanced itself from the competition label, will eliminate all competitive elements from the event. Instead, the conference will have a workshop format in which students will learn tools for preparing sermons in a particular biblical genre. Students will then be given the opportunity to preach their sermon for feedback without competing against each other. This year, they will study Old Testament narrative passages, with future years cycling through Old Testament poetry and New Testament letter genres.
Dr. Kerry McGonigal, a faculty member in the Division of Ministries, said he is excited because the new format better fits the goal of the conference. “We have the conference primarily to help these young people learn how to interpret and deliver God’s Word effectively,” he said. “Instead of the guys coming with a fully developed sermon and then preaching it and getting feedback on what they preached, they’re coming with a text of Scripture from a particular genre, and we are working with them.”
McGonigal also said he is looking forward to working with students in person once again. “Just getting to work with the guys individually and getting to know them personally is the highlight,” he said. “It’s always encouraging to see younger guys getting up in spite of their fears and endeavoring to preach God’s work.”
Another change occurred in the art entry displays. While the art entries were displayed in the Sargent Art Building in previous years, this year they will be in the lobby of the dining common. Jay Bopp, chair of the Division of Art + Design, said the change will benefit the competitors and the university. The new location will give more exposure to the competitors’ artwork and minimize the disruption to classes in the art building.
BJU faculty also highlighted the benefits high school students receive by competing. “Whether they’re musical artists or theatrical artists or visual artists, I think it’s good for artists to compete,” Bopp said.
Paul Jantz, director of musical activities at BJU, agreed. “I think the biggest value of competing from a student standpoint is really not necessarily winning a competition, but it’s a process you go through that pushes you and stretches you to try to improve what you’re doing,” he said.
“If I just observe someone else who’s in my own field doing a performance, and they’re really good, it inspires me to try to be better,” Jantz said.
The High School Festival also provides an opportunity for high school students to experience a taste of the fine arts program at BJU. Tuesday night features the Kaleidoscope Concert, a fast-paced concert with a variety of musical performances by various BJU groups.
Select competitors will be allowed to participate in side-by-side rehearsals and performances with four different university music groups, including the University Singers and Concert Choir, Symphonic Wind Band and Student Orchestra. On Thursday, attendees can also participate in open studios to receive or observe a private music lesson.
Ron Pyle, a faculty member in the Division of Communication and the director of the festival’s speech and drama contests, said the High School Festival will show attendees the quality of opportunities offered by BJU. “The High School Festival is really valuable as a way of demonstrating to students, what the potential is [and] what the value is in a school like Bob Jones that’s got years and years of history in this area of speech and drama,” he said.