It wasn’t held at Highland Park United Methodist Church, as in past years, but the End of the Year Gathering for the graduating Class of 2020 had its own unique and memorable moments. More than 150 faculty, students, friends and family members assembled virtually on Thursday, May 14, via Zoom to honor Perkins’ graduating seniors and outstanding current students.

Organized by Perkins’ Office of Student Life and Community Engagement, the End of the Year Gathering was a new event this year, replacing the Celebration of Degrees and Academic Achievement service normally held at HPUMC on the same day as the university-wide commencement.

“We wanted to hold a gathering celebrated with the seniors and current students before they move on to their places of ministry,” said Tracy Anne Allred, Assistant Dean of Student Life.

The program also presented recognitions to outstanding staff and faculty and bid farewell to two retiring members of the Perkins community: Sally Hoover, Interlibrary Loan and Reserves Assistant in Perkins’ Bridwell Library, and D. Max Whitfield, Perkins’ Bishop in Residence since 2012, who retires in August. Dean Craig Hill compared Bishop Whitfield to the Paraclete described in the Gospel of John.

“The Paraclete is the one called alongside to stand with you as a comforter and counselor,” he said. “Bishop Whitfield has done all these things for me. He is a wonderfully kind, generous, giving individual, and no one will miss him more than I will.”

Perkins faculty presented the following honors to selected students:

The Dr. and Mrs. J. P. Bray Award in Hebrew, given to the student who ranks highest in Hebrew scholarship: Nicholas (Nick) McRae

The Charles C. Selecman Award in New Testament Greek, given to the student who ranks highest in New Testament Greek scholarship: Weston Combs and Tim Clifford

The Charley T. and Jesse James Bible Awards, awarded to students on the basis of academic achievement in biblical courses and overall scholastic performance. Ranked recipients were 1) Stephen Lashley; 2) Kaylea Fleming Van Wettering; and 3) Kristina Roth-Klinck

The W.B.J. Martin Award in Homiletics, given in recognition of the most outstanding student in the introductory preaching classes: Paul Bussert and Jennifer Gros

The Paul W. Quillian Award in Homiletics, given to students who have presented the best-written sermon: Kaylee Vida

The William K. McElvaney Preaching Award, given to a student who has presented the best written sermon on a public issue, which includes a social crisis, a controversial issue or a chronic social problem: Jennifer Kilpatrick

The Robert Weatherford Prize for Internship Preaching, established to honor the distinguished service of Robert Weatherford to the United Methodist Foundation and given to Master of Divinity students for excellence in preaching during internships:Nerissa Grigsby and Jeremiah Johns

The Bert Affleck Award, given to a student for Creativity in Ministry during internship: Elizabeth Gallardo

The Jerry W. Hobbs Award in Worship, established in memory of United Methodist layman Jerry Hobbs and awarded to a student who has demonstrated academic excellence in worship combined with personal commitment to the worship life of the Perkins community during his or her time here: Garth Baker-Fletcher

The Fellowship Seminarian Award, established by The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts and given to a graduating seminary student who displays outstanding leadership in music and/or worship arts, including but not limited to dance, drama, fabric art and liturgical writing: Madison Garcia

The Jane Marshall Award for Outstanding Scholarship and Leadership in Christian Worship, funded by a gift from Jane and Elbert Marshall and given to a Master of Divinity or Master of Theological Studies student who has demonstrated excellence in the study and practice of Christian liturgy and worship: Victoria (Vicki) Wood

The Hoyt Hickman Award for Outstanding Liturgical Scholarship and Practice, awarded by The Order of St. Luke to the student who has demonstrated quality scholarship in the study of liturgy and proven an effective leader of Christian worship: Nicholas (Nick) McRae

The Master of Sacred Music Award, given to senior M.S.M. students who rank highest in scholarship and service to the community: Sarah Bilaye-Benibo

The Roger Deschner Prize in Sacred Music, established in memory of Roger Deschner, longtime professor of sacred music at Perkins. The prize is given to continuing M.S.M. students who excel in academic work, musical abilities and overall achievement in the M.S.M. program: Allison Shutt

The Albert C. Outler Award in Theology, awarded to the student contributing the most outstanding essays in theology during the academic year: Dukwhan David Kim

The Phillip Schaff Prize in Church History, named after the founder of the American Society of Church History, established by Klaus Penzel and awarded to students who have demonstrated excellence in the historical study of Christianity while participating in courses in church history: Weston Combs

The Karis Stahl Fadely Award, presented to students who exhibit the qualities which were exemplified by Karis Fadely: commitment to Jesus Christ and to the total ministry and mission of the church; responsibility in assigned tasks; ability to excel in a wide range of ministerial functions; and use and management of time: Anna Bundy, Katie Eichler, Nerissa Grigsby, Paul Meiller, Dayimi Pimentel

The B’nai B’rith Award in Social Ethics, given by the Harold M. Kaufman Memorial Foundation to students on the basis of scholarly competence in the field of Social Ethics and personal commitment as shown in voluntary activity in support of worthy social causes: Shandon Klein, Zachary Hughes

The Harry Hosier Spirit Award, established by Perkins alumnus the Rev. Dr. Henry Masters, and given to a graduating student who best exemplifies the spirit of Harry Hosier expressed in what is described as his “elocution of faith: I sing by faith, preach by faith, pray by faith and do everything by faith”: Kathy Hines

The Dr. and Mrs. Glenn Flinn Senior Award, given to that member of the graduating class who, in the judgment of the faculty, best exemplifies the aims of the school and the church for its ministry: Kristina Roth-Klinck

Other student awards presented included:

Bishop Hardt Award. The Bishop John Wesley Hardt Award, established by the Perkins Student Association in 1998 in honor of the Bishop in Residence, John Wesley Hardt, and given to students who are involved at Perkins in community life, worship and student government, in the local church and in their community: Rosedanny Ortiz and Carlene Barbeau

The Elsa Cook Award was presented to Kathy Hines. Established by the students of Perkins School of Theology upon Elsa Cook’s retirement, the award is given each year to the senior student recognized by fellow students to have actively participated in a variety of Perkins Community activities during his or her academic stay at Perkins and to have made a significant contribution to the building of community life and spirit of the campus. The award is made in recognition of the outstanding contribution to student and community life by Elsa Cook during the many years she was secretary to the Counselor to Students.

Two staff members were also recognized. Laura Figura, Coordinator of Student Life, received the Warrene Nettles Award, given to a staff member for significant contribution to community life at Perkins. The Faculty Senate Outstanding Staff Award was presented to Connie Nelson.

Special degree recognition was given to Sabina Hulem, who completed a Master of Education in Student Development and Leadership in Higher Education, as well as a graduate-level Academic Advising Certificate from Angelo State University. Hulem is the administrative assistant to  Alyce McKenzie in the Center for Preaching Excellence.

One of the highlights of the event was the premiere of a video featuring brief reflections from graduating seniors as well as words of wisdom from faculty. Many expressed appreciation for the support they’ve received and the faculty that nurtured, challenged and inspired them. Kathy Hines recalled a “three-hour class that felt like 15 minutes” taught by Hal Recinos. Frederick Mensah expressed appreciation for last-minute financial assistance that allowed him to complete his degree. Macie Liptoi (M.Div. ‘20) showed off a tattoo acquired in Bethlehem during an immersion trip to the Holy Land.

Faculty and staff also offered words of wisdom and farewell. Andy Keck shared a brief clip of “Jesus Loves Me” sung by his three grandchildren who call him “G-man.” Wearing his robes and holding a pitcher and bowl, Mark Stamm invited students to “Remember your baptism and be thankful.” Ruben Habito reminded students that “You are beloved. Just love in return, for a whole lifetime.” Dean Craig Hill concluded the video in cap and gown, inviting graduating students to picture themselves on the floor of Moody Coliseum, where Commencement normally takes place, and then formally “presented” the graduates to a photo of President R. Gerald Turner.

“Something I’ve learned at Perkins is that there’s always more to learn,” said graduating senior Kaylea Fleming Van Wettering in the video. “You don’t have to have everything figured out right away. But keep your mind and your heart open to the next thing that God’s going to be teaching you and to the next place that he’ll take you.

Watch the video here.