Notes from the Quad Commencement Edition

As rain holds off, thanksgiving abounds at YDS Commencement 2011

By Gustav Spohn
Director of Communications and Publications

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At precisely the moment Commencement 2011 concluded on May 23, the heavens opened up, and torrents of rain fell on Sterling Divinity Quadrangle, sending graduating students, family, friends, faculty and staff scurrying for cover.

Dale PetersonNo matter.  There was much to rejoice in, besides the diplomas the graduates clutched and the fact that the rain held off until the very end of two days of ceremonies—which included an outdoor Commencement Worship on the first day and, then, on the next day, Commencement Communion in Marquand Chapel followed by outdoor Commencement Exercises.

Indeed, Commencement Worship began with a word of thanksgiving—an opening hymn, set to the familiar music of Hyfrydol, with words by YDS’s own Thomas Troeger—homiletician, poet, musician, and hymnodist— which starts with the words, “Praise the Source of faith and learning who has sparked and stoked the mind with a passion for discerning how the world has been designed.”  Just as the rain was beginning to intensify, in his Commencement Exercises benediction, Berkeley Divinity School at Yale Dean Joseph Britton prayed, “Gracious God, before we get too wet, we do want to say thank you for all that has been done and accomplished and said here these past two days.”

One outsized cause for thanksgiving, both literally and figuratively, was the Class of 2011 gift of thanks to Yale Divinity School, presented to Dean Harold Attridge during Commencement Worship on the steps of Marquand Chapel, in the form of a giant 18” by 36” check.

Dean AttridgeThe $10,356 check was presented by Shakira Sanchez-Collins and Sean McAvoy, M.Div. and M.A.R. graduates, respectively, and co-chairs of class agents for the class.  Sanchez-Collins noted that the 72 percent participation rate made the Class of 2011 the “most contributing class ever,” and McAvoy said the check was presented “to show our gratitude for our time at YDS and the financial aid that many of us have received.”  The check will go to the Annual Fund, which is used entirely for scholarship support.

Beyond the corporate thanksgiving, there was cause for individual rejoicing as well.

In January, M.Div. student Vernice (Hopie) Randall had suffered a devastating blow—the death of an uncle who was like a father to her and, as a result, was forced to disrupt and jeopardize her studies at a critical moment in her last semester.

But amid the downpour that followed Commencement Exercises, there was Randall, standing under one of the Quad’s protected pavilion walkways, smiling, her arms filled with bouquets.  Minutes earlier, during Commencement Exercises, she had been singled out to receive YDS’s highest honor to a graduating student, the Henry Hallam Tweedy Prize for exceptional promise for pastoral leadership.  She plans a career in parish ministry, possibly after additional graduate work.

The other top prize, the Julia A. Archibald High Scholarship Prize to the student ranking highest in scholarship, went to M.Div. student Robert Holden, who earned a B.A. from Harding University and an M.A. from the University of Central Arkansas.  He is headed to the Graduate School of Arts and Sciences at Yale to enter the Ph.D. program in English.

RandallIn a sense, the top awards to M.Div. students Randall and Holden served to balance the preponderance of Latin honors bestowed upon M.A.R. graduates, 23 of whom received Latin honors, compared to four amongst the M.Div. students.

All told, some 130 students walked up, and then down, the Marquand Chapel steps to receive diplomas from Dean Harold Attridge, Associate Dean of Academic Affairs Emilie Townes, and Registrar Lisa Huck.
Among them, many could be thankful for exciting post-graduation plans, such as teaching at a seminary in Israel, entering a Ph.D. program in religious studies at Yale, service in the domestic ordained ministry, medical school at Duke, mission work in Malaysia, pastoring an English-language congregation in Moscow, teaching morality and biology at an inner-city Catholic high school in Harlem, serving on the staff of Saint George's Cathedral in Madrid, Spain.

In her Commencement Worship sermon, Associate Dean Emilie Townes exhorted graduating students to live a life based on a faith that is “dynamic, challenging, fearless, and sometimes foolish enough to refuse to accept what is, as the best there can be.”

That, she declared, can put an end to various evils, including sexism, racism, homophobia and heterosexism, jingoism, war and violence, and homelessness.

She ended with a challenge: “Will you be a part of the community of welcome and justice that defies the great mountains of despair and destruction and violence that dares the chasm of hatred and inhumanity?”

TownesBryan Spinks, the Bishop F. Percy Goddard Professor of Liturgical Studies and Pastoral Theology, delivered the other major sermon, during Commencement Communion. 

Preaching on the text from Mark 9:2-10, the transfiguration, Spinks noted that it was not only Jesus who was transfigured but the three disciples as well.  Like the disciples, he suggested, the vision of graduating students has been transfigured while at YDS.

“Your faith had been challenged on every side, by everything and everybody,” said Spinks.  “You were no longer the same believer who set out from your family, or church and congregation.  You no longer saw Christ as you had when you set out on this journey.  Here he had been transfigured.  But he was the same Christ.  You now just see him differently.”

Transfiguration, Spinks concluded, “gives us the capacity to open ourselves to new ways of being a Christian, and enables us to plod across the plain of dull, everyday living...pointing us to the new life in Christ that is always to come.

Posted: 05/24/2011