- Contributed by Tyler Owen Hendricks Tyler Owen Hendricks
The Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) held its thirty-third Commencement Exercises on Saturday, May 23 at 2 pm in the Interfaith Chapel in the main building. The featured speaker was Reverend In Jin Moon, President of the Family Federation in America. The chapel was filled to capacity with family members of the graduates, friends and other well-wishers.
The Graduating Class
The ceremony, emcee'd by Dr. Michael Mickler, seminary vice president, included a total of forty-five graduates - thirty-four men and eleven women - from the main campus at Barrytown and the N.Y.C. Extension Center. The graduating class included the first UTS Doctor of Ministry degree, awarded to Michael Balcomb. Eight graduates received their Master of Divinity degree, thirty-five the Master of Religious Education degree and one was awarded the Certificate in Unification Leadership.
The culminating dissertation, theses and projects of the class included diverse and important topics, including "A College Freshman's Guide to Healthy Habits" (Chang), "Teaching Divine Principle to Elementary-School Children through Music" (Gogo), "Effective Sunday Service Formats for Teenagers" (Hayashida), "Pakistan's Educational System Contributing to Intolerance" (Javed), "Empowering Women in African Society" (Kyungu), "A Study of the UC Blessing Ceremony" (Yu), "Track IIIa Diplomacy" (Muzorewa), "Ocean Education for Global Citizenship" (Seo), "Initiation into Religion" (Li), and "Designing and Implementing an Effective UPF Conference Participant Feedback Mechanism" (Balcomb). (titles edited)
The Commencement Ceremony
In her Commencement Address, Rev. In Jin Moon reflected on the Founder's devotion to the school and campus. She recalled his creating what is now "Father's Trail," part of the Hudson Valley Greenway, and his speaking to students in tranquil settings under trees and overlooking the river or pond. Rev. Moon shared her own experiences on the campus while growing up, apologizing for the noise she and her siblings might have made as they rode horses past the classrooms. She lifted up the interfaith dimensions of UTS education, and envisioned the spirit of UTS flourishing as the form evolves. She affirmed the vision of one family under God, inspiring graduates to reach beyond traditional boundaries to serve humanity with the heart of True Parents.
An honorary degree of Doctor of Humane Letters, honoris causa was awarded to Dr. Douglas Johnston, founder and president of International Center for Religion and Diplomacy. Dr. Johnston has edited and authored several books, including Religion, the Missing Dimension of Statecraft (Oxford University Press, 1994) and Faith-based Diplomacy: Trumping Realpolitik (Oxford University Press, 2003) and co-author of Madrasa Enhancement and Global Security: A Model for Faith-Based Engagement (ICRD 2008). Dr. Johnston founded the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy (ICRD) eight years ago "because he saw religious faith as a catalyst for peacemaking, instead of a basis for conflict. Johnston has learned that Muslims will listen more closely to a Christian than to the typical secular Westerner. 'If you can operate on a faith-based basis, you find that, particularly with Muslims, they really open up' said Johnston to Christianity Today.
In his comments to the graduating class, Dr. Johnston inspired them and the audience with his experiences with the Taliban. Believing that interfaith dialogue is key to understanding and bringing peace to that region, he held talks with Taliban leaders deep in Taliban controlled territory. At one point, one of them asked him if he was Muslim, implying that if he wasn't and wouldn't convert, he might be killed. His quick response was "I am a Muslim because to be a Muslim means to be submissive to God and I am submissive to God." His comment defused a potentially dangerous situation and the talks could go on.
Director of Student Life, Rev. Eric Sylte, presented the UTS Service Award for outstanding service to their fellow students to Lean Monyrith from Cambodia and Saboru Sekiguchi from Japan. Students, faculty and administration alike recognized their selfless efforts to volunteer in many capacities. He then presented the UTS Outreach Award to Chipo Muzorewa, niece of former Zimbabwe Prime Minister Abel Muzorewa, for her internship work with the United Nations office of the Universal Peace Federation and in the office of a US Congressman.
The Ceremony was graced with beautiful music filling the spruced up sanctuary. Dr. Brian Saunders directed the WestRock Choir in three lovely songs, accompanied by Rev. Gavin Hamnett on piano and Ms. Sunboon Jeong on violin. Mrs. Moon Sook Choi Yoon, Director of the UTS Institute of Korean Language and Culture, offered a deep rendition of "The Lord's Prayer," and our Extension Center registrar, Davetta Morgan Ogunlola, stirred everyone's hearts with the National Anthem.
Graduate responses were given by Mr. Sergio Alcubilla, representing the Barrytown students, and Rev. Rudyard Morgan, representing the Extension students. The Commencement Ceremony closed with a benediction by adjunct professor Dr. Luonne Rouse, Senior Pastor, Metropolitan Community United Methodist Church, New York.
In the morning before graduation, Paul Rajan, an Anglican student born in India and a citizen of New Zealand-organized a Pre-Parliament event with Dr. Johnston as guest speaker. This event is a precursor to the 2009 Parliament of the World's Religions, which will be held on December 3-9, 2009 in Melbourne, Australia. The Barrytown event, moderated by UTS Student Council president Barbara Robertson, included an invocation from Pundit Shashidhara Somayaji, head priest at the Hindu Samaj Temple in Wappingers Falls, a delightful dance by two girls from the Temple, and songs by Cecilia St. King.
Dr. Johnston's address covered the genesis of the International Center for Religion and Diplomacy, and hallmark work the Center has accomplished in, among numerous other places, the Sudan, Pakistan and the holy land. Dr. Michael Mickler offered a response representing the faculty, suggesting that the ICRD's work might serve as a ground for a theological framework for peace. Dr. Johnston then took a number of questions from the floor. A lively discussion ensued taking everyone well past the closing time.
African Community Reception
To celebrate the graduation of several students from Africa, local graduates and colleagues from Africa created an African Community Reception after the Commencement. They shared food and drink, décor and dance from their countries, creating a lively and joyous atmosphere. We were blessed with the participation of a good showing of Chipo Muzorewa's family, some of whom flew in from Zimbabwe for the occasion.
30th Reunion of the Third Class
Capping the weekend was the 30th Reunion of the Class of 1979. Organized by Linda and Frank Zochol, with assistance from Daniel Davies, some twenty members of the third graduating class shared memories, hugs, news, songs and a delicious meal gifted by a donation from the UTS Alumni Association president. The sharing went long into the night.
A new feature of this year's graduation weekend was a Board-Alumni Forum on the Future of UTS. On Friday evening, following a meal together, Bishop Ki Hoon Kim, Rev. Michael Jenkins and Dr. Hendricks shared with some forty alumni about the future of the seminary. Many alumni came to the open microphone to share their heart, vision and practical ideas for the future. The evening concluded with a delightful talk from the seminary's first president, Dr. David S. C. Kim, now 95 years old but full of energy.
It was a rich and wonderful event for all concerned, and deep thanks go to all whose hard work made it happen.
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