YDS Commencement 2010: Community amid diversity

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

CommencementDuring the Commencement 2010 Communion Service, members of Yale Divinity School’s newest graduating class were reminded that, when they venture into the world beyond Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, they will be “stepping across familiar thresholds into the unknown, venturing into places where folks don’t necessarily think or pray or work like we do.”

After making that point, Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures Carolyn Sharp pointed to the Gospel of Matthew to assure graduates that they leave YDS well-positioned to encounter the unknown: “As you step across the YDS threshold, dear graduating students, know that the evangelist Matthew equips you for a courageous and transgressive new beginning in discipleship...Matthew teaches us to dare to trust in the presence of a mighty lord whose faithfulness endures forever and who will never leave us!”

Nora Tisdale, the Clement-Muehl Professor of Homiletics, also spoke about challenges created by competing points of view—but from the perspective of day-to-day life at YDS.  What she said undoubtedly boosted the confidence of graduating students that their time at YDS has prepared them for what lies ahead.

Describing the YDS community as composed of “conservatives and liberals” and “people of diverse races and cultures,” Tisdale observed that, nonetheless, a sense of community prevails.

“At first, it sounds a whole lot more like Babel than Pentecost,” Tisdale told the gathering at the Commencement Worship service on May 23.  “But over time, and through the years, the Spirit blows through this place.  And when the Spirit blows, miracles of hearing and speaking and community-building take place.”

She pointed to several venues at YDS where diversity and community coexist in especially compelling ways:

Betsy Cahill“I have seen it happen in Marquand chapel, where people slowly begin to realize that this diversity of denominations is a gift to us, not a curse, and where we come together and on our better days find ourselves praising God in a language that transcends any one of our own.”

“I have seen it happen in the classroom—where conservative and liberal students sit at a table together and do Bible study, and all of a sudden their respect for one another begins to deepen and a unity is born that can only be of the Spirit.”

“And I have seen it happen over shared meals, where people risk a little bit more each time, sharing who they really are and in the process not only reveal themselves but make friendships that are going to last far beyond this place.”

The remarks about diversity and community highlighted some of the primary defining characteristics of Yale Divinity School: an academic institution with a primary emphasis on theological education that also maintains a critical commitment to individual and communal spiritual growth.

John HelmiereThe voice of women at YDS is a large part the school's diversity, and over the years more and more women have graduated, to the point where the ratio of women to men is about 50/50.  The first women graduated in the 1930s, and Commencement 2010 marked the formal beginning of a year-long celebration of eight decades of women on campus. Dean Harold Attridge made the announcement during graduation ceremonies, and along with each commencement exercises program came an insert about the celebration, called "Honoring the Past, Challenging the Future." 

At Commencement 2010, 51 Master of Divinity degrees were awarded, along with 69 Master of Arts in Religion degrees and 12 Master of Sacred Theology diplomas.  Twelve students anticipate receiving degrees in December.

Top prizes went to John Helmiere, who received the Henry Hallam Tweedy Prize for pastoral leadership, and Elizabeth (Betsy) Kirkland Cahill, who was awarded the Julia A. Archibald High Scholarship Prize for the student ranking highest in scholarship.

Helmiere, a 2005 graduate of Dartmouth College who was director of a social service and justice enterprise in central Florida before entering YDS, is headed to Seattle to pursue United Methodist church planting in racially and economically diverse neighborhoods.  Cahill, a 1983 graduate of Harvard-Radcliffe College who attended Oxford University as a Rhodes Scholar, plans to pursue a literary ministry, sharing her understanding of and deep love for the languages and texts of the Bible.

Other graduates are embarking upon a wide array of activities upon graduation.  A number will enter the ministry, some will pursue graduate education in religious studies, others will teach, and some will go into other professions such as social work.  Click here to read profiles of a sampling of 2010 graduates.

View a collection of images of graduates, family, friends, faculty and staff from Commencement 2010.

Revised 6/9/2010