Typically, commencement speakers aim to leave the graduates with a few words of wisdom to remember on their special day.
But Bishop Dr. Barbara Lewis King, commencement speaker at ETS’ ceremonies on June 1, gave the graduates a pass. Dr. King, who got her Doctor of Ministry degree at ETS in 2012 at age 81, said she remembers her own graduation day and how it is a whirlwind of activities and emotions.
“I sat where you’re sitting,” she told the 20 graduates. “I learned what it means to be at an institution so special. And if you don’t remember anything I say, that’s all right.”
The commencement was the 39th for ETS and was held in its beautiful sanctuary that was full of family, friends and the seminary’s faculty. Graduates received degrees and diplomas in the Masters of Pastoral Ministry, Masters of Divinity, Doctor of Ministry and Urban Ministry Diploma programs.
Each class designated a speaker to give a few remarks before Dr. King’s speech.
Carolyn George, who received her Urban Ministry Diploma and was a bit older than her classmates, joked that she was not the typical college student.
“I’m not the typical seminary student either, but I love my God and I wanted to serve,” she said.
The program “had a profound effect on me, and that’s directly related to this institution,” she said of ETS. She laughed when she spoke of how her professors “worked this ol’ gal hard.”
“I am eternally grateful to this place which helped me to know God deeper and know myself better,” George said.
She concluded her remarks by speaking to any guests in the audience who might be thinking about enrolling at ETS.
“If you want to know yourself better, know the word of God and you feel a calling, ETS is the place for you,” she said.
David Jefferson, who received a master’s degree in Pastoral Ministry, said his previous seminary experience at another institution was “antiseptic” and “bland.” He said ETS opened his eyes to the “people context” of faith and “linked people to God.”
“ETS has taught me to love people and love them unconditionally,” he said.
Scharron Rambus received his master’s degree of Divinity and called it a “milestone” and “a major step in our journey in our lives.”
He told his fellow graduates their accomplishment was “not only an act of commitment but of perseverance.”
He said he liked ETS’ small class size and classmates from different denominations.
“Because of ETS, I don’t see the world as I once did,” he said.
April Hearn, who received a doctor of ministry degree, said the program was about expansion. She said it “impossible not to grow” at ETS.
She said she and her fellow graduates missed family events, endured a bed full of books, a table full of papers and maybe gained a few pounds. She said their lives “have changed forever,” but their graduation is not the conclusion.
“It’s the commencement of change, of challenges, of healing, of wholeness,” she said. “Don’t you dare let the sun set on your work. Don’t you dare stuff yourself in that box you came out of.”
And Randal Meyers, who received an ACPE doctor of ministry degree, spoke about hitting the “send” button on his dissertation.
“I started crying I was so grateful,” he said. And he said he and all the graduates were thankful for the support of the family, friends and the ETS faculty.
ETS President Rev. Dr. Kenneth Harris introduced Dr. King as one of ETS’ “most honored alums” and called her a “phenomenal woman of God.”
Dr. King told the graduates to make people understand it’s not what they are, but “who they are” that matters. Use practical language, she told them, and meet the needs of the people.
“No fancy sermon is going to transform people,” she said. “Be inclusive. Stop judging religion, stop judging people. We’re all God’s children.”
She encouraged everyone in the congregation to tell someone seated near them that they love them and let them know “they’re not on the journey by themselves.”
“Touch each other with a healing thought,” she said.
In encouraging the graduates to go out and make a difference in their communities, she recited a saying by poet Maya Angelou. “I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel.”