Family and friends filled the sanctuary of Highland Park United Methodist Church to honor the 2022 graduating class at Perkins’ Celebration of Degrees and Academic Achievements on May 14.
Ninety-five students received their SMU diplomas from Perkins, including eight December graduates, 77 May graduates and 10 summer graduates. Degrees were conferred earlier in the day at the university-wide Commencement Convocation at Moody Coliseum, and graduates received their master’s or doctoral hoods at the celebration service.
MSM student and organist Seth Luna played the opening Processional by William Mathias. Dr. Ruben Habito, Professor of World Religions, delivered the Invocation.
The sermon, “Wisdom and Courage,“ was delivered by the Rev. Dr. David McAllister-Wilson, President of Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C.
“The goal of seminary is to foster the wisdom and courage necessary for this leadership,” he said. “Wisdom is the ability to perceive the difference between the way things are and the way God intends them to be. Courage is the willingness to act as disciples of Christ in anticipation of the kingdom.”
He added that Perkins graduates will be called on to share profound words with their congregations, in many cases every week, and some will feel the pressure to be entertaining.
“Avoid that pressure,’ McAllister-Wilson urged the graduates. “You are not the light; you are an acolyte. You are not the shepherd; you’re one of the sheep. That kind of humility is the beginning of the wisdom necessary for servant leadership.”
In looking ahead at the important intellectual challenges that will likely test graduates’ wisdom, he said, “Let me predict they will not be gender or sexuality. Those who make that the issue of our time will inherit the wind.”
More pressing will be global warming that radically disrupts local and global economies; advances in biotechnology that will make it possible to dramatically extend lifespan for those that can afford it; and the likelihood that computers will acquire what seems like consciousness.
More immediate will be the crises that communities may face in the coming years. “What if there’s yet another shooting of an unarmed black man in your neighborhood?” he said. “What if signs of intelligent life were found in other galaxies? Or a battlefield nuclear weapon is detonated on a Saturday night? Are you ready to answer that call and respond theologically on Sunday morning? The big questions won’t be about what it is to be male or female. They will be about what it is to be human and to live in human community.”
McAllister-Wilson recalled the Bible passage in which Jesus preached to the people of his hometown, who chased him out of the synagogue and tried to throw him off a cliff.
“Courage is the indispensable virtue for Christian ministry,” he said. “As C.S. Lewis said, courage is not simply one of the virtues, but the form of every virtue at its testing point. And we are always at one of the testing points. Wisdom shows us the gap between what transpires and what God desires; courage is what lets us stand in that gap.”
He concluded by expressing his hope that seminaries can be a blessing to the world.
“I want our seminary graduates to preach good news to the poor, to proclaim the release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind and to set at liberty those who are oppressed,” he said. “You know, the stuff Jesus cared about. And I want them to lead the church to practice these things.”
At the conclusion of the sermon, the choral anthem was presented by the Seminary Singers with MSM graduate Claire Ward directing. Christopher Anderson, Associate Professor of Sacred Music, served as organist for the service.
Dean Craig C. Hill invited the graduates to thank all the friends, spouses, parents, grandparents, children and grandchildren at the ceremony who had supported them during their time at Perkins. Then, citing Philippians 4:8, he closed the worship service with this benediction for the graduates: “As we step from this sanctuary, this beginning into an open future of opportunity and promise, let us strive to learn what is true, especially where truth eliminates prejudice; embrace what is noble, especially where nobility challenges self-interest; choose what is right, especially where right action requires sacrifice. Do what is pure, especially where purity of spirit overcomes double mindedness; seek what is beautiful, especially where the love of beauty frees us from mediocrity; search out what is admirable, especially where that search leads to a life of purpose. And commit to what is praiseworthy, especially where the commitment to the greater good sets us free from vanity. So may we invest our time and talents wisely and honorably, living our best lives, learning, growing, creating, serving, loving well, and so reflecting the true image of God. Amen.”
A reception in Arden Forest south of Prothro Hall followed the service. Friends and families of the graduates gathered for pictures, refreshments, and conversations with faculty and staff.
Joining graduate Christina Hardy at the reception were her husband and five children – all decked out in matching red t-shirts honoring the occasion. Echoing the sentiments of many gathered that day, Hardy’s husband’s t-shirt inscription read: “Proud Husband of an M.Div. Master 2022 Graduate.”
The following awards for outstanding academic achievement were presented during the program.
The Faculty Award in Greek, to the student who ranks highest in New Testament Greeks scholarship, to Rachel LeMay.
The Charley T. and Jesse James Bible Awards, awarded on the basis of academic achievement in biblical courses and overall scholastic performance, to Rachel LeMay and Caroline Collins.
The W.B.J. Martin Award in Homiletics, given in recognition of outstanding students in the introductory preaching classes, to Jacqueline Lirette.
The W. B. DeJernett Award in Homiletics, given to a senior student with the highest academic average in homiletics courses, to Shelby Olive.
The Paul W. Quillian Award in Homiletics, given to the student who has presented the best written sermon, to Robert “Tripp” Gulledge.
The William K. McElvaney Preaching Award, given to the 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, to Jillian Shannon.
The Robert Weatherford Prize for Internship Preaching, awarded to a theology student for excellence in preaching during internship. Recipient was chosen by the intern faculty of Perkins School of Theology and a representative from the preaching faculty. Given to Laura Byrd.
The Bert Affleck Award, given to a student for creativity in ministry during internship, to Julian Hobdy.
The Fellowship Seminarian Award, established by The Fellowship of United Methodists in Music and Worship Arts, is 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. Awarded to Garth Baker-Fletcher.
The Hoyt Hickman Award for Outstanding Liturgical Scholarship and Practice awarded by the Order of Saint Luke, is given to the graduating student who, in the judgment of the selection committee, has given evidence of a high quality of scholarship in the study of liturgy and is an effective leader of Christian worship. Given to Shelby Olive.
The Roger Deschner Prize in Sacred Music established by friends and family in memory of Roger Deschner. The prize is awarded to an M.S.M. student who has excelled in academic work, musical abilities and overall achievement in the Sacred Music Program. Awarded to senior Claire Ward and juniors Fernando Berwig Silva and Mykayla Turner.
The Albert C. Outler Award in Theology awarded to the students contributing the most outstanding essays in theology during the academic year, to Ally Drummond and Josean Otero López.
The Phillip Schaff Prize in Church History established by Klaus Penzel, is given for demonstrated excellence in the historical study of Christianity, while participating in courses in church history, to Lauren Sandstedt and Sean McMaughan.
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 causes. Awarded to Josean Otero López and Barbara Taylor.
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.” Awarded to Christina Hardy.
The Hunt-Francis Research Grant in Pastoral Care and Counseling for students in faculty-supervised research projects in research and pastoral care counseling, to Mariah Fusco and Wanda Ward.
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, to Julian Hobdy.