Class of 2020 Graduates in Online Services
On Tuesday, May 19 and Wednesday, May 20, 2020, Seminary of the Southwest held its 69th Commencement exercises, conferring degrees to the 28 members of the Class of 2020.
Like many seminaries, colleges, and universities globally, the services were hosted online, with friends and family of the seminary and its graduates watching from all over the world.
The Wednesday Commencement included a component that would normally be uncommon – a message of support directly to Southwest’s graduating class from the Presiding Bishop, the Most Rev. Michael Curry. Speaking to graduates at the beginning of the service, Bishop Curry reminded them of their unique place in history:
“You did not choose this moment, but this moment now, God has chosen you,” said Bishop Curry. “You have been called for this moment to go into the world, to proclaim Jesus Christ and His way of love as God’s way of life. You have been called to this moment to help us in this world to not live for ourselves alone, but for the God who created us all and for each other, as brothers and sisters and siblings, the children of the one God who is the creator of us all. Who knows? While you didn’t choose this moment, God has chosen you, and to God be the glory.”
The Very Rev. Miguelina Howell, 10th Dean of Christ Church Cathedral, Hartford, CT, delivered her sermon from Christ Church Cathedral, but her message resonated across the country to those watching on their screens.
“This seminary has trained you precisely to thrive in a rapidly changing world, and to be adaptive and nimble,” Howell told graduates. “Get out the tools and get to work. The world needs you. Go! Go! Be present… and make a difference in the world.”
An honorary Doctor of Divinity was awarded to Southwest alumna, the Right Reverend Kathryn M. Ryan. The Rt. Rev. C. Andrew Doyle conferred the degrees in his role as Chair of the Southwest Board of Trustees, a role Ryan assumes this fall.
In the official proclamation awarding the degree read by the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president, Bishop Curry said of Bishop Ryan, “the gifts of deep faith, calm wisdom and skill at execution that led to Kai’s election are needed and being called on now by us in the House of Bishops. You are a gift not only to the Diocese of Texas but to the Episcopal Church.”
“Having Miguelina’s address and Bishop Ryan’s honorary degree presentation remain in the ceremony was meaningful and important for us. I’m happy we were able to figure out how to include them. Of course, hearing from Bishop Curry was a wonderful gesture of embrace for our senior class. These seniors have been through a great deal – I’m grateful to Bishop Curry for his words. They were welcome salve during a time uncommon grief,” said the Very Rev. Cynthia Briggs Kittredge, dean and president.
The Tuesday Evening Prayer service, traditionally a Eucharist more intimate that the Commencement service, included the remembrances of those lost in the previous year, as well as a ‘presentation’ of Seminary Crosses to each graduate– a tradition at Southwest for decades since the James Avery designed it. In lieu of ceremoniously presenting each graduate their cross, Kittredge blessed the crosses and then read each graduates name, touching each cross while doing so.
Southwest’s primary focus was to ensure the graduates felt celebrated. After conversations with seniors, the administration focused on what other traditions they could include that were most meaningful. In addition to the two graduation services, Southwest provide additional support to help students maintain the long-standing tradition of Last Gathering, where seniors and faculty are lovingly ‘roasted’ in skits and songs. Another common element of graduations, photography, was also maintained.
“Last Gathering provided me personally with the most healing laughter I had had in weeks. You could feel the love that students, staff, and faculty have for these seniors in every bit,” Kittredge reflected. “And even though it was socially distanced and individually scheduled for safety’s sake, I believe the portraits made of each senior in Christ Chapel held significant meaning.” The traditional class photo in front of the Seminary Cross was also created by compiling the individual photos with photo editing software.
Each graduate has been invited to join the 2021 Commencement exercises as a full participant.
“This has been a semester filled with difficult and heartbreaking decisions,” said Kittredge. “Chief among them was the cancellation of physical gatherings for all our graduation related events. We remain committed, however, to celebrate this inspirational senior class as best we are able during this crisis. They deserve our very best.”
Watch both graduation services below:
Note: both videos begin at the 13 minute mark.