In the shadow of a slowly receding pandemic giving way to optimism that old traditions can be renewed, Seminary of the Southwest hosted its two traditional graduation ceremonies – in person on May 18 and 19, 2021.
The services – an Order of Worship for the Evening with the Presentation of the Seminary Crosses, and the 70th Commencement Exercises of the Episcopal Theological Seminary of the Southwest – were scheduled to be held on the central outdoor space known as ‘the Motte,’ on the campus of Seminary of the Southwest. However, as forecasts called for tremendous rainfall in Central Texas, both ceremonies were moved indoors to the Weeks Center. It was the first time Commencement exercises will be hosted on the seminary campus in decades.
To account for the space needed to maintain social distancing, both events were invite only with each graduating senior allowed two guests to each service. When the move indoors required only graduates, faculty, board and required staff to be the only attendees, the Southwest administration and students worked together to create viewing rooms in campus spaces large enough to accommodate guests while being safely distanced for the Wednesday morning Commencement services. Both events were live-streamed to the seminary website and Facebook page.
As the skies cleared on Wednesday morning, graduates and their families were able to gather together after the ceremony on a wet and muddy Motte that continued its beloved role in the community since the pandemic began.
“Amid this entire pandemic, the Motte has been a blessing to our community. It has been our Chapel, our dining hall, our classroom, and our study space. It has allowed us to maintain a community of worship as we navigated the ongoing challenges associated with the pandemic,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president. “And while we were unable to have the commencement that we planned, because of the resolve of the talented staff, faculty, and students of Southwest, we were still able to host this in-person graduation that we were determined to have. It is a testament to the enduring nature of the community of Seminary of the Southwest.”
In addition to awarding degrees to the class of 2021, Southwest conferring three honorary doctorate degrees. Longtime community leader, Ms. Ora Houston, received a Doctorate of Humane Letters, and the Rt. Rev. Martha Stebbins, Bishop of Montana and Southwest Alumna, and the Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle, Bishop of Texas and Chair of the Southwest Board of Trustees, received Doctorates of Divinity.
“This class of honorary doctorate degrees is special. Ms. Houston’s leadership in our community aligns with our core values of hospitality and rootedness, Bishop Stebbins is a former student, a current friend, and one of the distinguished women leading in the House of Bishops. And Bishop Doyle is our longtime friend, champion, and board chair who has made so much of our recent successes possible. We are blessed to be able to honor them at this commencement,” said Kittredge.
Further, several member of the class of 2020, who were unable to participate in any in-person graduation events in May of 2020, returned to ceremonially walk the stage.