Yale Divinity School sent 135 graduates into the next stage of their lives on Monday, into churches, chaplaincies, educational institutions, nonprofits, and other professional homes, as well as Ph.D. and other advanced-degree programs. But wherever they are going, Dean Greg Sterling told them, they will face the same daunting questions:
Who will trust them? How will they earn trust?
Addressing the faculty and graduates and their families at the School’s 192nd Commencement, Sterling cited surveys that document a decline in Americans’ trust in the country’s foremost institutions and sectors. He asked the graduates and their families to consider the precipitous decline in trust and the reasons behind it.
“Rhetoric has replaced reality,” Sterling said. “Ideology has overwhelmed commitment to truth. And clever has occluded wisdom. How do we change this? How can we restore the public trust in the institutions that you will now or within a few years lead?”
Sterling said the beginnings of a robust answer can be found in Psalm 15, which speaks of the imperative to “walk blamelessly, do what is right, and speak the truth from (the) heart.” Global figures such as Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama have modeled this form of leadership, Sterling noted. And although those who emulate them will not lead lives free of difficulty or controversy, it is they who will cultivate trust and help restore trust to public life.
“Commit yourselves,” he challenged, “to tell the truth and only the truth.”
The graduating class
Monday’s graduates range in age from 22 to 63 and represent a dozen countries. Seventy-seven received the degree of Master of Arts in Religion (M.A.R.) degree. Forty-nine earned Master of Divinity (M.Div.) degrees, and nine received Master of Sacred Theology (S.T.M.) degrees.
According to a survey by the YDS administration (which had a 98 percent response rate), 69 percent of Monday’s divinity graduates plan to pursue employment. Of those, half had accepted offers at the time of their being surveyed, with another half weighing competing offers or still looking.
The leading career paths among those graduates include ministry in churches, hospitals, the military, and colleges and schools; teaching at public and private schools; research; university administration and/or teaching; non-profit program work and administration; nursing; policy work; and publishing.
Twenty-nine percent of the graduating students reported they were pursuing further education. The majority of them are entering Ph.D. programs, having been accepted for doctoral studies at 19 different universities in four countries.
More than seven percent of the class are already ordained; 16 percent expect to be ordained by the end of 2018, and another 8 percent expect to be ordained between 2019 and 2020.
Nine for ’18: Meet members of the graduating class
‘Living the values’
Addressing the large Commencement Day crowd on the sun-splashed quadrangle, Sterling told the graduates, “One of the dilemmas you will face is the decision between doing what is a matter of principle versus doing what is politically advantageous, doing what will promote the welfare of the people you serve versus your own welfare, doing what may cost you your positions versus doing what will preserve your position.
“What does your degree mean? It means that you could provide a form of critical analysis of the psalm, that you could recognize the intertextual connection with the Decalogue. But is also means that you commit yourselves to living the values for which we stand.”
“Who may lead a congregation or parish?” Sterling continued. “Who may lead a not-for-profit? Who may lead a private or public school? Who may lead in the academy? ‘Those who walk blamelessly and do what is right, and speak truth from their heart.’ This is the charge that we give you with your degree.”