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‘Go forth and flourish’: GST Commencement ceremony celebrates graduates

Graduate School of Theology students process into Stewart Chapel on the Marin Campus to take part in a Commencement ceremony on May 21. (Photo by Jamie Soja)

The sound of bagpipes rang through Stewart Chapel on the Marin Campus May 21 as graduates of the University of Redlands Graduate School of Theology’s San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) processed down the aisle past family members and friends. Throughout the Commencement ceremony, verses of Scripture were read, prayers were delivered, hymns were sung, and students received a variety of degrees, certificates, and diplomas.

Graduate School of Theology (GST) Assistant Provost and SFTS Interim Dean Christopher Ocker welcomed the audience and noted that, 149 years ago, the seminary’s first graduating class consisted of one student.

“Each one of you is as precious to us on the faculty as a class of one,” he said, addressing the graduates. “We…have counted it a great privilege to teach you and learn with you and beside you. Today, we have the reward of a relationship tried and true, stronger than we felt it could be.”

President Krista Newkirk congratulated the 18 graduates while savoring her first opportunity to experience a Commencement ceremony on the picturesque campus. In her remarks, she urged them to remember the dedication it took to continue their educational and spiritual journeys.

“As you commence on this day and move forward to the next stage of your life, I hope you will take the sense of this place and the community you felt while you were here at Marin, and that you will continue to pursue justice, knowledge, dignity, and the wellbeing of all people. May today be the first of a lifetime of celebrations and may your spiritual service bring deeper meaning to you and to those you serve. Congratulations, class of 2022, go forth and flourish,” Newkirk said.

Throughout the Commencement ceremony, verses of Scripture were read, prayers were delivered, hymns were sung, and students received a variety of degrees, certificates, and diplomas. (Photo by Jamie Soja)

In addition to the conferring of degrees, two distinguished alumni were honored for their service: Rev. Karen “Bear” Ride ’75 (M.Div.), ’91 (D.Min.)  and Rev. Stewart Perrilliat ’15 (M.A.T.S.), ’22 (D.Min.). The Distinguished Alumni Awards were inaugurated on the 100th anniversary of the Alumni Association in 1981 to recognize graduates for their distinctive contributions to their ministries.

Before retiring, Ride served as pastor in a variety of churches in Southern California, was dean of students at the SFTS Southern California campus, and directed the Peace Center at United University Church. She continues to be actively involved in the Presbyterian Church USA by serving as an interim pastor, chairing the SFTS Alumni Council, and serving on the GST Board of Directors.

“Curiosity is the force that keeps us alive, and growing, and relevant,” she said, accepting her award. “Acquiring this discipline of curiosity inside these hallowed halls has put us on the path of incredible opportunity to apply our heart, soul, mind, and strength to the life of ministry and service.”

Currently an ordained clergy member at the Allen Temple Baptist Church in Oakland, Perrilliat founded Man 2 Man in 2007, an organization that includes a Fatherhood Advocacy Support and Training program. His mission is to help young men achieve social, personal, professional, and academic success.

“Frederick Douglass said it like this: ‘It’s better to raise strong children than repair broken men.’ That’s what I find myself doing every day—repairing broken men … my mission is to take those men and help them to understand the importance of fathers being in their lives,” he said.

Additionally, fellowship awards were given to two graduating M.Div. students who have maintained a high standard of achievement and who show outstanding potential for leadership in the church and in the world. Tae Yong Pak ’22 received the Seminary Fellowship and Audrey Lynne Barton ’22 received the Alumni Fellowship.

Before a closing prayer and benediction, Ocker addressed the graduates once more. “We are in a season of many uncertainties but our commitment to you stands secure,” he said. “Do not be afraid. You are of great value.”

Learn more about the Graduate School of Theology.