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Halo photoCommencement 2009: Amid thunder, clouds and gloomy economy, reasons for hope

By Gustav Spohn ’73 M.A.R., Director of Communications and Publications
Editor’s note: Lisa Levy ’11 M.Div. also contributed to this story

Jaime Lara, chair of the Program in Religion and the Arts, bid a fond farewell to the Class of 2009 at Yale Divinity School during May 24 commencement worship services—but not without a reference to what he called “frightening” economic insecurities and a lack of job prospects.  Lara gave his outdoor sermon, entitled “Searching for a New H(e)aven,” amid gathering clouds and an ominous rumbling of thunder in the distance.

“It’s been such a great place. I’ve made so many lasting relationships with friends and mentors. I’m really going to miss it.” Lindsay Bacher, M.A.R.

Despite the gloomy economy and inclement weather, which drenched the campus just minutes after the worship service ended, there was more than enough inspirational talk by Lara and other commencement speakers to send newly minted graduates out into the world with a measure of confidence and optimism.

“Hope is the power by which we desire the reign of god, placing our trust in Christ’s promises and relying not on our own strength, but on the grace of the Holy Spirit,” said Lara under darkening skies.

Dean's Charge“The virtue of hope,” he went on, “responds to the aspiration to happiness that God has placed in the heart of every person; it keeps us from discouragement; it sustains us in times of abandonment; it preserves us from self-centeredness, and it leads to the joy that flows from the works of love.”  And he suggested to graduates that “the task of the hopeful, your task” is to create a haven “where justice, peace, inclusivity, tolerance, and charity reign.”

 “YDS has been a place to grow, both in faith and intellect, which is the theme of the school. I think that we really embrace that here. I respect that and think I’ve grown in both ways, more than I could have imagined, and I’m grateful for my time here.” Kim Bauser, M.Div.

Kristen Leslie, associate professor of pastoral care and counseling, in a sermon delivered at the commencement communion service on the following day, described  the Eucharist as empowering students to “go out into the world using the skills and the gifts that you have...to make a difference in a world that is suffering, in a world that needs to know the peace of Isaiah, where there is no more hunger and where there is no suffering.

“You have done good work here,” she told graduating students, gathered together with friends and relatives in Marquand Chapel.   “And now go and make a difference.”

Several hours later, under a brilliant blue sky that bore little resemblance to the foreboding heavens that dominated the day before, Dean Harold Attridge gave his annual “charge” to the graduating class during commencement exercises, when diplomas are given out and prizes and fellowships announced.

FacultySaid Attridge, “I hope that we have helped you during your time with us, to hone your skills, to open new channels for your creativity, to develop new tools to harness your enthusiasm...Whatever you are going to do, the church and the world desperately need all that you have become in this community of memory and expectation.  A fearful world needs your ability to inspire hope, a grieving world needs your capacity to console, a world racked by war needs your ability to bring the gospel of reconciling love, and a world of greed needs your passion for justice.”

A total of 133 students were awarded degrees in 2009—62 the Master of Divinity; 58, Master of Arts in Religion; and 13, Master of Sacred Theology.  Of the 133, 23 were affiliated with Berkeley Divinity School, and 14 with the Institute of Sacred Music.

While a number of graduates were still uncertain of immediate plans at graduation time, most had plans in place, despite the worldwide economic downturn.  Many were headed for advanced degrees, while others had positions lined up in pulpit ministries or with para-church agencies.

 “It’s been a fabulous experience. I never woke up one morning thinking I made a mistake—regardless of the fact that I might have gotten four hours of sleep—I still seemed to survive.” Debbie McLeod Sears, M.Div.

A few samples of post-graduation plans gives an idea of their variety:  Caleb Perl, Ph.D. in philosophy, Notre Dame; Cory Hunter, Ph.D. in musicology, Princeton; Esther Brown, Ph.D. in Hebrew Bible, Brandeis; Jonathan Dudley, M.D., Johns Hopkins School of Medicine; Cameron Hardy, chaplain, Millbrook School; Meredith Coleman-Tobias, Fulbright Scholar, Barbados; Jennifer Miller, parish ministry, North Alabama Conference of the United Methodist Church; Reginald Bachus, parish ministry in the National Baptist Convention; Beth Magill, associate priest, St. David’s Episcopal Church, Austin, Texas; Nichole Flores, Ph.D. in theological ethics, Boston College; Greta Getlein, curate at Christ Church (Episcopal), New Haven; Peter Harrits, pastoral intern at a Lutheran congregation in Kuala Lumpur; Rahiel Tesfamariam, East-of-the-River Clergy Police Community Partnership, Washington, DC.

 “YDS opened up diverse perspectives in historical theology and the systematic uses of historical theology—which is desperately needed at a time when we seem to be suffering from chronic ahistoricism.” Jonathan David Teubner, M.A.R.

Top awards announced during commencement exercises went to Katie Ann-Marie Bugyis, who received the Julia A. Archibald High Scholarship Prize, awarded to the graduate ranking highest in scholarship; and to Javen Dane Swanson received the Henry Hallam Tweedy Prize for exceptional promise in pastoral leadership.  Bugyis, who earned an M.A.R., will pursue a Ph.D. in medieval studies at Notre Dame, and Swanson, an M.Div. graduate, will enroll in the M.Th. program at Luther Seminary in St. Paul, MN.

Moments before the torrential downpour hit Sterling Divinity Quadrangle , class agent chairs Terry Dumansky and Joshua Hill told the worship service gathering that a total of $10,012.09 in gifts and pledges had been collected for the Class of 2009 gift to Yale Divinity School – to be matched by a member of the class who wished to remain anonymous – bringing the total gift to $20,024.18.

“Over the past couple of years, it’s been an invitation to start a faith journey that I was afraid of for a number of years—I’m still treading very lightly, but I’m getting there—and YDS has really been the jumping-off point for me. Rachel Virginia Holmes, M.Div.

In addition, the class donated the large cloth labyrinth that hung gracefully behind the speakers from the Marquand Chapel steps during commencement.  Senior Class Officer Holly Adams noted that members of the class had been “down on their hands and knees” working on the labyrinth during the days preceding graduation, which contains the names of each and every member of the YDS faculty, staff, and administration.  As if in a labyrinth, said Holly, students were not always able to look fully behind or fully ahead.  But at each point along the way, she said, members of the YDS community were there “to support us and guide us.”


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