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Commencement 2008: Summoning the Holy Spirit

By Gustav Spohn, Director of Communications and Publications
With reporting by Leslie Brown ’10 M.Div.

Commencement 2008When graduating student Adele Crawford led a refrain from “Veni, Sancte Spiritus” (“Come, Holy Spirit”) at Yale Divinity School commencement worship services on May 25, her Metropolitan Opera-trained voice was as beautiful as ever.

As she summoned the Spirit under a perfectly sunny and cloudless sky, powerful currents of air swept through Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, threatening to knock over the Yale Divinity flag and prompting Dean of Students Dale Peterson to lay the flag on its side.  It was as if the Spirit—also “breath” and “wind” in the biblical literature—had heard and responded.

Isaiah sings of a future in which there is no hunger, no thirst.

Immediately following, another graduating student, Travis Weber, read a passage from Isaiah 49 that resonated with the occasion as well:   “They shall not hunger or thirst, neither scorching wind nor sun shall strike them down.”

Indeed, the wind and sun at the Commencement 2008 worship service caused no apparent harm, and the celebratory food and drink in the Quad afterwards served as a splendid antidote to any hunger or thirst.

Commencement worship preacher Carolyn Sharp, associate professor of Hebrew Scriptures, put the words of Isaiah in a more theological context when she said, “Isaiah sings of a future in which there is no hunger, no thirst.  Isaiah sings of a future in which Zion’s covenant with God means redemption for all people.  Isaiah sings of a future in which no one will say, ‘God has forgotten me.’”

Calling on members of the graduating class to take risks and be courageous, Sharp observed, “There are those in our troubled world who think God has forgotten them.  It is the vocation of every believer to speak a creative word of hope into the darkness of those lives.  Into the metaphorical prisons we make for ourselves and the actual prisons in which desperate people are confined, we are to speak a Gospel word of hope.”  View webcast of commencement worship service here.

Investing in those things that matter to God

Those who decide to err on the side of love in the church today often pay quite a high price.

The following morning, during the commencement communion service, Clement-Muel Professor of Homiletics Nora Tubbs Tisdale spoke of the countercultural nature of the love taught by Jesus. Said Tisdale, “I don’t have to tell you, because you know full well, that those who decide to err on the side of love in the church today often pay quite a high price.”

She counseled graduates to invest their lives in those things that matter most to God, such as feeding the hungry, healing the sick, comforting the grieving, proclaiming forgiveness to sinners, extending hospitality to strangers, or witnessing to the peace and justice of God.

Commencement 2008The 131 graduates of the class of 2008—68 of whom were awarded the M.Div. degree, 55 the M.A.R., and eight the S.T.M.—are leaving Sterling Divinity Quadrangle to enter a variety of vocations.  A few examples:  Michael Del Ponte will be executive director of a nonprofit organization he founded called Conscious Lifestyle, which aims at helping students and schools be more socially responsible; Diana Carroll will be assistant rector at the Church of the Holy Trinity in Philadelphia; Oby Ballinger will be a religious organizer with Love Makes a Family in Hartford, CT, along the way to ordination in the United Church of Christ; Jaime Waters will enroll in the Near Eastern Studies Ph.D. program at Johns Hopkins University; Katey Zeh will be scholar in residence at the Religious Institute on Sexual Morality, Justice, and Healing in Westport, CT; Joshua Rinas will minister at Zion Lutheran Church in Waterbury, CT and at Seafarer’s International in New York City; Christopher Doucot will continue living in the Catholic Worker community in Hartford, CT, building bridges between the powerful/well-connected and the poor/neglected; Evan Baehr will enter Harvard Business School with an aim to harness organization, capital and markets to promote human flourishing around the world.

For the awarding of diplomas in the afternoon, the top third of Sterling Divinity Quadrangle was overflowing with students—many with gold or silver halos affixed to their caps—family, and friends.  Before diplomas were awarded by Dean Harold Attridge, Academic Dean Robert Wilson, and retiring Registrar Detra MacDougall, Attridge read his official “charge” to the graduates—referencing the charges already given by Sharp and Tisdale and, earlier, to Episcopal students by Berkeley Divinity School Dean Joseph Britton and to Catholic students by Auxiliary Bishop Peter A. Rosazza of the Archdiocese of Hartford.

Said Attridge, “My prayer is that you find the strength, the imagination, the perseverance, in short, the heart, to run the race that God sets before you now, a race to preach good news, to bring healing and comfort to the afflicted and, on occasion, to afflict the comfortable, a race to make new discoveries, to create new beauty, and to serve in creative ways.”  View webcast of degree ceremony here.

For graduates, an arduous race well run

Following the ceremony, the graduating class joined the community at a reception—their first gathering as YDS alumni. Newly graduated students celebrated the 2008 Commencement weekend with farewells, teary-eyed blessings for future endeavors and lots of embraces.

Commencement 2008

Parents especially were attentive to the accomplishments of their sons and daughters.  Marnell Lyle, the mother of Rachel Lyle, who took a position with the Institute for the Future in Menlo Park, CA, said, “Rachel really appreciated the Divinity School community.  There are fine professors and staff. It is an exciting day and celebration acknowledging all of the hard work she has put forth.”

And the mother of Tamika Aaron,  Rosie Black, said,  “I am blessed by being here today, that I am able to see my daughter graduate.  I know that it was not easy but God brought her through.”

Associate Professor of Pastoral Care and Counseling Kristen Leslie spoke for many members of the faculty, no doubt, when she said, “There is a sense of pride watching [students] today and remembering when they first came in.  There is also a sense of wonder and pride in how hard they have worked.”

Song Bok Jon, who graduated from the S.T.M. program, said,  “I’ve been here for one year and will be going onto Boston University for a Th.D. in preaching.  I am already missing the goodness in this community.  The people who remain should take advantage of the community while here.”

Collectively, members of the Class of 2008 showed their appreciation by announcing a gift to the Alumni Fund of $11,000—a gift that had grown to $12,060 within two weeks of commencement.  All gifts to the Alumni Fund go directly toward student scholarship support.

Assistant Professor of Christian Education Yolanda Smith offered a special blessing encapsulating much of the spirit of the weekend’s activities, remarking,  “I hope this class goes forward with singing and dancing with joy as they go forward in service and ministry. We celebrate their accomplishment.”

--Last Updated: June 11, 2008

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