At Commencement, a final "charge" to graduates from Dean Harold Attridge
At precisely 1:51 pm on Monday, May 21, 2012, Dean Harold Attridge began what would be his final public address to the Yale Divinity School community during his decade as dean – his annual "charge" to the graduating class at Commencement exercises. (view video)
The dean’s final words to the community were based on Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, Chapter 12, where the apostle speaks of clinging to the good, rejoicing in hope, hating what is evil, and admonishes, "Do not claim to be wiser than you are."
"You have, I sincerely hope, learned a great deal about scripture and ethics, history and theology, about ministry and the context in which that happens, about the ways of worship and the varieties of sacred song," Attridge told graduates. "You have learned lots, and perhaps have been transformed or reinforced in the process, and I fervently hope and indeed expect you will go forth and do great things for the Kingdom of God.
"But as you go, recognize, as I certainly do, that there is much more to learn about the life of faith and how it is to be lived. Don’t claim to be wiser than you are, but remain open to new learning, new insight, further growth and transformation."
Attridge reminded graduating students of the meaning of "commencement" and called the two or three years most students spend at YDS "a good beginning," challenging them to "keep at it."
This year, commencement had special resonance for Attridge, since it signaled the turning of a page in his own career, a fact the dean acknowledged in noting that his charge was for himself as well as graduates. At the end of June, Attridge will step down as dean after completing two five-year terms. Following a yearlong sabbatical in Australia, he will return to full-time teaching at YDS in 2013-14, but as Sterling Professor of Divinity, the highest academic rank that a member of the Yale faculty can achieve.
Fittingly, the dean gave his address to graduates in Marquand Chapel, where he attended services on virtually a daily basis during his tenure. Rain had forced the ceremony indoors, and limited space in Marquand required two separate ceremonies, one for M.Div. graduates and another for M.A.R. and S.T.M. graduates. Thus, in deference to the elements, Attridge’s final address to the YDS community as dean was delivered twice, as if to punctuate its significance.
All told, 139 students received degrees at Commencement 2012, 60 M.Div. graduates, 70 M.A.R., and nine S.T.M. In December, 13 more students are expected to receive degrees: three M.Div., six M.A.R., and four S.T.M.
Graduates will be heading off to ministries in locations such as Philadelphia, Brooklyn, Atlanta, and New London, CT; others will be taking positions as varied as special assistant and legal advisor to the president of Millsaps College, a consultant position with the United Nations, and teaching music and environmental sciences at a private school in upstate New York; and many will be pursuing further education at places such as, in addition to Yale, the Candler School of Theology, Harvard University, Princeton Theological Seminary, the Yale School of Nursing, the University of Tubingen in Germany, the University of Virginia, and the University of Chicago.
While the dean had the last word, three departing members of the YDS faculty also delivered "charges" a day earlier, during Commencement worship on Sunday. (view video)
Yolanda Smith, associate professor of Christian education, urged members of the class to embrace three words: gratitude, excellence, and audacity.
Gratitude, she said, "can encourage us to believe that all things are possible, even that which seems impossible." A dedication to excellence, she said, means, "Whatever you are called to do, do it for the glory of God." And living with a spirit of audacity, Smith declared, brings "the willingness to take risks, the courage to act boldly..." and inspires the "struggle for peace and justice, for healing and hope."
Associate Professor of New Testament Diana Swancutt implored members of the class to invoke the power of "love implementing justice and justice removing everything that stands in the way of God’s boundless love."
Jeremy Hultin, associate professor of New Testament, quoting the Book of James, encouraged graduates "to visit widows and orphans in their distress" and "to keep oneself unstained by the world." The meaning of the former, he said, is straightforward. The latter is more complex—but members of the class, he quipped, are well-positioned to interpret its meaning.
Student voices were heard as well as those of faculty and administrators. One highlight of Commencement was the announcement by Alex Peterson ’12 M.Div. and Kate Stratton ’12 M.Div., 2012 Class Agents co-chairs, that the graduating class’s gift to YDS, all going toward student scholarships through the Annual Fund, totaled $8,479 and set a record for participation at 73 percent.
Peterson said the gift represented "a testament to the spirit of the entire Class of 2012," and Stratton remarked, "It is truly an offering to YDS for all that the place has given us and a gesture of hope for future leaders who will share their gifts for ministry, their gifts for faith and intellect in a variety of vocational settings."
Jared Gilbert ’12 M.Div. and Elise Addington ’12 M.A.R., representing the Class Officers, gave public thanks to the YDS community and to friends and families for their support.
Top award recipients recognized during Commencement exercises were Gilbert and Brett Maiden ’12 M.A.R. Gilbert, who served as president of the YDS Student Council in 2011-12, was awarded the Henry Hallam Tweedy Prize for exceptional promise for pastoral leadership, and Maiden received the Julia A. Archibald High Scholarship Prize for the member of the graduating class ranking highest in scholarship.
Associate Professor of Hebrew Scriptures Carolyn Sharp delivered the sermon at Commencement worship. Like Smith, Sharp raised up the notion of risk, observing, "Heeding God’s call is always risky."
"In his farewell prayer, noted Sharp, "Jesus lets us know that discipleship involves risk because it requires that we live counter-culturally. Those who seek the Holy will encounter the fierce antagonism of the world, because they are choosing a different path than the one the world affirms."
She concluded, "Beloved graduating students: through your courage, your prophetic witness, and your mindfulness, you have shown us that God’s ways are not the ways of the world. You have taught us to take risks. You have taught us afresh how to seek the Holy with all our heart, soul, mind, and strength."
The other Commencement sermon (view video), at Monday morning’s communion service, was given by Hultin. His sermon described the twists and turns along life’s journey, not unlike what the Israelites experienced during the flight from Egypt.
"We have no promise that the way will be straight or smooth, henceforth," said Hultin. "We do have a promise that God will travel with us, will provide for us, and that God is taking us on this journey because God longs to do us good and to let us see the glory of the Lord."