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Diplomas in Hand, Yale Divinity Graduates Sent Forth into “Real World”

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications

On a crisp May 23 under alternately sunny and cloudy skies, the Yale Divinity School family gathered in Sterling Divinity Quadrangle to celebrate Commencement 2005, as 121 students ventured forth to life beyond the Quad, diplomas in hand.

Graduating students listened to Dean Harold W. Attridge, in his “charge,” instruct them to “go forth” and use their degrees “for the service of God, God's Church and God's world.” Earlier, they had heard Professor David Bartlett urge them to “move on” remembering the ecumenical experience of Yale Divinity School and Professor David Kelsey tell them “it's all about God,” not us. Joseph Britton, dean of Berkeley Divinity School at Yale, asked students at the Commencement Evensong to ponder the verse “Jesus wept” and the “willing tears of anguished wonder” evoked by the reality of God's love.

The diplomas promise to carry this next generation of Yale Divinity School graduates far and wide, to various corners of the globe, into diverse forms of ministry both lay and ordained. Some plan to go directly into the pulpit ministry, some will pursue further academic training, others will enter the nonprofit sector, and some will become educators. And, of course, a few are still working on their plans.

As they enter the “real world,” the 2005 class of graduates may well remember the words of Kelsey, the Luther A. Weigel Professor of Theology at YDS, who reminded them in the Commencement communion service, “Our lives finally are not about us. Our lives are about God.” The service featured Ghanaian drumming; a string, percussion and saxophone quartet; and a graceful dancing of the Gospel book, held high above head, through the length and breadth of Marquand Chapel by Erika Jones, M.Div. '06.

“We don't really live our own lives if we try to live them in our own names,” said Kelsey, “We truly live them when we live them in God's name.”

Similarly, at the earlier Commencement worship service, Bartlett, the Lantz Professor of Preaching and Communication, urged graduates to summon the courage to be leaders. “Even in the most Christian, agape-driven, warm-hearted community, decisions must be made and sometimes leaders must lead,” he noted. “It's not just that you lead, it's how you lead.”

“Don't take your hands off the world God created and creates and strives to redeem,” Bartlett said. “Think fairness. Think justice. Think economics. Feed the sheep.”

For these two Davids, participation at the 2005 Commencement marked their last as full-time members of the faculty at Yale Divinity School, as both will retire effective July 1. Bartlett came to Yale in 1990 and, Kelsey, in 1965.

At the Commencement ceremony, students ascended the Marquand Chapel steps one-by-one to receive their diplomas from Dean Attridge, Academic Dean Robert Wilson, and Registrar Detra MacDougall. Of the 121 receiving their degrees, 62 were awarded the Master of Divinity, while 41 received the Master of Arts in Religion and, 18, the Master of Sacred Theology.

Some degree candidates took time in the days leading up to graduation to reminisce about their experience at Yale Divinity School and to talk about their future plans.

John Rohrs, one of 13 Summa Cum Laude graduates this year and a candidate for ordination in the Episcopal Church, cited several faculty role models: “I will begin my vocation aspiring to preach like a David Bartlett, practice hospitality like a Siobhán Garrigan, teach like a Carolyn Sharp, and care for people like a Dale Peterson.”

“Within the context of parish ministry, my primary passion and interest is the intersection between pastoral and prophetic ministry, or how the radical gospel of Jesus Christ shapes our best hopes and actions as we seek wholeness as individuals and communities,” observed Rohrs. “This passion was nurtured during my time at YDS.”

Another graduating student, Marcus Blackwell, a black Baptist from Connecticut and director of the Marquand Gospel Choir, said the Yale Divinity School experience helped him “come to realize that God can use all sorts of people or vessels to accomplish God's mission on earth.”

“The rich diversity in the student body is important in teaching and ministering to a congregation, and I have benefited tremendously from this journey,” said Blackwell. His long-term goal is to form a faith-based, nonprofit organization for counseling lower-income people on how to better handle their finances at a time when the gap between “haves” and “have nots” is widening.

“As I leave YDS, I go with less certainty about my vocation than I had when I arrived here, but with much more certainty about my call to the service of God,” said Leslie Woods, who in September will begin a yearlong internship with the Public Life and Social Policy Ministry Team of the United Church of Christ. “I believe that every minute I have spent on the quad, whether it was used in studying and in researching, or in lounging on the grass with friends on a pretty afternoon, has formed my heart and mind for service in ministry.”

Tyler Mayfield, a Southern Baptist and native of north Alabama, said that at Yale Divinity School he had “found a group of friends who share my evangelical heritage and perspective.... Yale has been a great stepping stone for me as I continue to prepare for a career as a scholar and teacher.” He plans to attend Claremont Graduate School of Theology to study Hebrew Bible.

Among the many prizes and fellowships awarded for 2005, the Julia A. Archibald High Scholarship Prize for highest ranking in scholarship went to Christiana Nissa Peppard, a 2001 graduate of Stanford University in the Master of Arts in Religion program.

For any tears shed at graduation, Britton's Commencement Evensong sermon provided some context. Britton noted that there are not only tears of joy and tears of sadness but tears of a more profound sort—tears that he said reflect “a deep and ineffably profound gratitude to God,” tears that signal “a glimpse of the sheer wonder and goodness and graciousness of God.”

As the Commencement exercises ended on the Quad, graduating students heard Britton deliver the last official words of their YDS student years: “And the blessing of the holy and undivided Trinity, one God now and forever, be upon you this day, and all the days of your life. Amen.”

Go to>YDS Dean Harry Attridge's Charge

Go to>BDS Dean Joseph Britton's Sermon

Go to>David Kelsey's Sermon

Go to>David Bartlett's Sermon