“How should graduates of a divinity school respond to a torn society?” Such was the question posed by Dean Greg Sterling in his send-off speech to 132 graduates at the Divinity School’s 193rd Commencement, held May 20.
The Dean’s remarks came just days after Sterling and a contingent from YDS and Yale University joined hundreds of others in an interfaith vigil at New Haven’s Diyanet Mosque, the site of an arson attack on May 12 that was likely motivated by anti-Muslim bigotry.
“The fabric that holds our society together is being torn apart; it is coming undone,” Sterling said. “The ideologies of groups have displaced our loyalty to the whole, especially in politics. The centrifugal forces that push us apart are becoming more powerful than centripetal forces that bring us together. While these forces have always been among us, they have become more pronounced–or at least more brazen.”
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Yet, Sterling stressed, hope could be found in events like the well-attended interfaith vigil at the New Haven mosque, which brought together people of numerous religions and no religion.
“Hundreds of people were standing in solidarity, their presence a cry for unity against the forces that are attempting to disrupt and rupture our community,” Sterling said. “Whether you serve a church, a not-for-profit, a for-profit, or a faculty, I hope that you will resolve to be a force for unity in your local community.”
The Dean’s plea for unity was set amidst a day of jubilation for the graduates and their friends and families. Earlier that morning, many had marched—and danced—down Prospect Street to the beat of an African drum corps in the traditional procession to Yale’s main Commencement exercises on Cross Campus.
Of the 132 graduates, 49 received the M.Div. degree, 69 the M.A.R., and 14 the S.T.M. Forty-five percent intend to go into some form of ministry, whether as pastors or chaplains in a hospital or school or in the military. Another 42 percent of the grads say they will pursue further education, including 18 who are entering Ph.D. programs. Eight percent will work for nonprofits and another five percent are entering the business world.
The grads received a rousing welcome to the YDS alumni community from Kaji Douša ’06 M.Div., President of the YDS Alumni Association Board. Douša is senior minister at Park Avenue Christian Church in New York and a nationally prominent advocate for immigrants and refugees.
“As graduates of Yale Divinity School you are guaranteed welcome to join the over 8,000 others who have graduated from this fine school,” Douša declared. “On behalf of that number and the great company of heaven that paved the long road of sacrifice, creativity, and prayer that brought you thus far, we welcome you to the Alumni Association. It’s real good over here!”
Andover Newton at YDS
Also highlighting Commencement weekend, Andover Newton Seminary held its first graduation ceremony at YDS since affiliating with Yale and moving to New Haven. In a Saturday morning service in Marquand Chapel, Andover Newton honored the first student to complete the requirements of Andover Newton Seminary’s educational program at YDS and earn a diploma in congregational ministry.
That graduate is Emily Bruce ’19 M.Div., who is moving on to a two-year ministerial internship at First Parish Sherborn, a Unitarian Universalist church outside of Boston.
Closing his Commencement address, Sterling acknowledged the challenges that face anyone who works for unity.
“Yet it is worth it,” the Dean said. “There is life in unity. This was evident at the Diyanet Mosque last Thursday. … There is decline and ultimately death in fragmentation, a reality that we now know too well in America.”
“If you want to be counter-cultural, be an agent for peace,” Sterling concluded. “If you want to represent God, find ways to bring people together rather than tear them apart. If you want to experience life and give it to others, build communities.”