Dean extols unity in message to graduating class

May 20, 2024

In his annual Commencement address to the graduates, Yale Divinity School Dean Greg Sterling today urged the graduates to understand—and work to heal—the dangerous polarization in society.

“Our world is rent by immoral wars, by unethical distribution of wealth, by racism,” Sterling told the Class of 2024, whose members were joined on the Divinity School Quadrangle by hundreds of friends and family members in addition to the YDS faculty and staff. “I won’t finish the litany. Each issue can be complex and needs to be addressed, and I urge you to address them. But as you address them, I challenge you to keep in mind the importance of community. That’s where life exists, and I hope that you will always remember that.”

Fifty-one students received the Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.) at the diploma ceremony. Forty received Master of Divinity (M.Div.), and seven the Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) The degree recipients ranged in age from 22 to 70, hailing from Asia, Africa, and Europe in addition to North America.

Meet these graduates: Profiles of 11 members of the Class of 2024

Monday’s joy-filled and peaceful diploma ceremony concluded an academic year marked by tensions and protests over the war in Gaza. As the Dean noted, the year also saw the release of the blockbuster movie “Civil War,” which voiced an increasingly palpable fear in the country about the prospect of bloody conflict between factions of Americans. Reflective of the tenor of the past semester, some students held small Palestinian flags or draped Palestinian keffiyehs over their shoulders at the graduation ceremony. At least one student adorned their graduation cap with the Star of David.

More than at any time in the recent past, Sterling noted, tensions are high and gaps are wide in politics today. “Instead of talking about ‘my political opponent,’ frequently people talk about their political enemy,” Sterling said. The Dean cited a recent poll showing 45% of all Republicans and 41% of all Democrats believe that the members of the other party are a threat to the country’s well-being. Hate crimes, he added, are higher now than at any point in this century.

YDS Commencement 2024: Watch the video

Acknowledging there are no simple political solutions or strategies, Sterling turned to Scripture—specifically, Psalm 133—and what it teaches about character and disposition as the more promising and lasting solutions to society’s polarization problem.

“The basic message (of the psalm) is very simple,” Sterling said. “Look how good and how beautiful it is when people live together in unity.” Whether applying the message to families and small groups of people or to entire societies, “the result is that God’s blessing is given, and that’s life forevermore. The point of the Psalms is that there is life in community.”

“We might not understand everything alike,” the Dean concluded. “We might not even always feel good about other people who disagree with us. That’s nothing new. But we need to learn how to live together. I hope you will work for that in your lives.”

Photo gallery: View scenes from Sunday’s Commencement worship and Monday’s degree conferral and diploma ceremony

May 20, 2024