On May 22, the San Francisco Theological Seminary at the U of R Graduate School of Theology held a Commencement with both in-person and virtual elements. Hosted on the Geneva Terrace of the Marin campus, 60 guests made up of students, faculty, trustees, and honorees attended. Approximately half of the 52 graduates of the Classes of 2020 and 2021 participated in-person, wearing face coverings and seated with physical distancing. Each attendee was able to bring one in-person guest; others watched the live stream.
The event was presided over by Provost and Executive Director of the Marin Campus Kathy Ogren and Dean Rev. Jana Childers. In her welcome remarks, Ogren spoke about the blessing of being able to celebrate together safely, quoting the Beatles’ song “Here Comes the Sun”: “’It’s been a long, cold, lonely winter,’ literally and metaphorically, but here we are… in the sunshine.”
Childers, who will step down from her administrative role and return to the faculty on July 1, was also celebrated. In her remarks, Childers delivered a charge for GST San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) graduates to “be kind,” asking, “What does kindness have to do with the work we have ahead of us to address extremist ideologies and overcome the outrageous, unthinkable, polarization that, even more than that crown shaped virus, has become the hallmark of this age?”
For those who want to work on the side of the gospel, Childers continued, “You have to be able to listen to things you don’t want to listen to ... be able to do more than put forward right ideas and call out wrong-doing. … You have to be able to let the Holy Spirit infuse some kindness into your heart – you have to be able to find a space for listening to the people you are most sure are wrong.”
As per SFTS tradition, Doctor of Ministry graduating student Juliette Razafiarisoa ’21 delivered the event’s benediction with a pandemic twist, speaking from Madagascar on video about her experience as director of Ivato Theological College. Also celebrated were the last two years’ distinguished alumni award recipients, Rev. Jeannie Kim ’01 (M.Div.) and Rev. Jorge William de Castro Abdala ’16 (D.Min.).
Erin Green ’21 (M.Div.), who received the Alumni Fellowship Award, attended the event with her mother, and had several friends and family members watch online. “It was an incredible experience,” she said. “I was very grateful for the hybrid option. I felt safe and secure with COVID protocols, while simultaneously being able to enjoy and take part in such a milestone moment!”
Washington, D.C., resident Rev. Albert Johnson ’20 (D.Min.) also took part in the in-person ceremony; he was so moved to be back that he walked around campus for an hour before the event unfolded. He described Commencement as a “tremendous, awe-inspiring, spiritual moment,” adding, “To be in attendance was a reminder of the passion, collaboration, and unity I felt from each person in the matriculating student body during my time on campus.”