The Trustees, faculty, student body, staff, friends and family gathered for the first Commencement ceremony of its second thirty years. For the first time, the UTS graduation took place in May. It was a cool and refreshing day, in contrast to the decades of frequently uncomfortable events held during the late June warmth.
Dr. Tyler Hendricks, Seminary President, and Dr. Kathy Winings, Dean of the Extension Center, led the processional march to the newly expanded proscenium of the interfaith chapel. Mrs. Davetta Morgan Ogunlola gathered the congregation in the “Star Spangled Banner,” a performance that turned into a solo as all stopped singing to relish her fine voice. Dr. Winings, the mistress of ceremonies, then introduced Lonnie McLeod, Director of Ecumenical Recruitment and Advancement, to offer the invocatory prayer.
Among the significant components of this year’s Commencement, none were more important than the honoring of our two Honorary Doctorate recipients, D. Hamdi Mohammad Murad Murad and Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa.
Dr. Murad is Professor at Al-Barqu University, Jordan, co-founder of the Jordan Interfaith Conference, and a member of the Jordan Media Administrative Council. He is a voice for moderation in the Middle East who exemplifies the core teachings of Islam. Dr. Mrad is also a member of the Presiding Council of the Universal Peace Federation, an organization deeply aligned with the vision of this Seminary.
Dr. Murad spoke highly of the award as the most valued one he has received. He extolled the UTS mission for interfaith peacebuilding and expressed his desire to continue to work with UTS in the context of developing Ambassadors for Peace who can bridge barriers of culture, race and religion.
Bishop Abel T. Muzorewa led efforts throughout the 1970s to forge a non-violent transition from white-ruled Rhodesia to majority rule in the newly renamed Zimbabwe. In 1979 he was elected his nation’s first black Prime Minister. Although imprisoned for a time by the Mugabe government, he continued too lead the Methodist Church in Zimbabwe as a preacher and through numerous charitable works. He retired in 1992 yet continues to minister to the people of his nation, notably as patron of the Araunah Mission Fellowship for the blind. Bishop Muzorewa is recognized as one of the outstanding African Christians of the twenteith century.
The Bishop got a good round of laughter as he opened his remarks with a story of a man who checked into a very expensive hotel and signed his name with two X’s. Seeing that this individual was illiterate, the desk clerk questioned who he was. The man responded that he was indeed Dr. So and So, who had a reservation. The clerk said, well, what is it you’ve signed here? The guest told him that the first X was his name, and the second stood for “Ph.D.” Bishop Muzorewa also lauded the work for peace undertaken by the UPF, of which he is a member of the Presiding Council, and encouraged UTS on its path to programs preparing leaders in the field of interfaith relations.
Dr. Hendricks then conferred degrees on three recipients of the Certificate in Unification Leadership, 21 recipients of the Master of Religious Education Degree, and 12 recipients of the Master of Divinity Degree. This group produced a varied and impressive collection of religious education projects, including “Ecumenical and Interfaith Tradition as a Core Unification Movement” (Kyeongbok Bang), “Three-Generation Family as a Model for Family-Centered Church” (Tomonori Daimon), “A Needs Analysis for an International Standard of Religious Education for Blessed Children” (Kyoung Hyo Kim), “Divine Principle and Zen” (Shinji Nakano), “Story-Centered Religious Education” (Kmitriy Vilchitskiy), and “Educational Development for Young Adults in Zambia” (Dominic Katongo).
Notable Masters theses included “Spiritual Debilitation of the Inner City Male” (Leander Hardaway), “Emerging Concepts in Sacred Architecture” (Matsuko Kumagai), “Considering the Image of God with the Re-Emergence of the Divine Feminine” (Otilia Tanner) and “Mountain Top Ministry” (Carolyn Younger-Nolan). Twenty of the degree recipients were from the Barrytown campus, and eight were from the Extension Center. Four of the MRE degrees were upgrades for individuals who had received diplomas previously, including Diane Abendroth, Bento Leal, Chieko Self and Rev. Chen Fong. Rev. Fong is now serving as program assistant for the Doctor of Ministry degree.
Dr. Hendricks’s remarks emphasized the importance of the interfaith direction upon which the seminary is embarking. He reported that the Board adopted a five-year Strategic Plan that morning and encouraged all graduates to become interfaith peacebuilders. Mr. Shota Iwasaki and Evang. Carolyn Younger-Nolan represented their respective locations in giving the graduate responses to Dr. Hendricks’s congratulatory remarks.
The Seminary presents awards for outstanding student performance each year. This year Mr. Yukihiko Yamamoto was presented the UTS Voluntary Service Award, and Carolyn Younger-Nolan received the UTS Vision Award. Both awards were presented by Dean Davies. Dr. Chang Shik Yang, Continental Director of the FFWPU America and Chair of the UTS Board of Trustees then presented the Founder’s Address, representing the Reverend Sun Myung Moon. He called the graduates to a life of service to God and humanity, building from strong marriages and family life to justice in the community and the peace of God’s Kingdom in the world. He reminded the graduates of the eternal dimensions of their work, and that we should live with awareness that our life on earth is preparation for life in the eternal spirit world. Rev. Michael Jenkins, President of the FFWPU America gave the benedictory prayer.
The New Jerusalem Choir, directed by Noriko Sprague, grace the event with Beethove’s “The Heavens are Telling,” Haydn’s “Come, O Source of Joy and Gladness,” and Curry’s “His Peace Will Come.”
The congregation gathered for a reception to close out the day. That evening a group of Ambassadors for Peace arrived from Washington, DC, to begin a four-day intensive course on interfaith relations, and both Bishop Muzorewa and Dr. Murad joined the group.