As a heavy rain fell on the tent holding graduation ceremonies at Hartford Seminary on Friday, May 13, 2016, many a speaker remarked on the warmth and good cheer inside.
Seventy-five students were recognized with leadership certificates, graduate certificates and degrees ranging up to Ph.D. at the late afternoon graduation. Dr. Reza Mansoor, First Vice Chair of the Board of Trustees, presided over the ceremony. He told the graduates that this was “your day” and that their accomplishments “come from a place of passion in your heart that I respect deeply.”
President Heidi Hadsell congratulated the students and their families, calling it a joy to witness their accomplishments.
“We send you on your way with what I can only call awe,” she said, noting that each student has a powerful individual story as well as a collective identity as a class.
President Hadsell also recognized Prof. Yehezkel Landau, Associate Professor of Interfaith Relations, who will be leaving the Seminary after 14 years. He was greeted with a standing ovation from faculty and students.
Graduation speaker Michael Gilligan, Ph.D., president of the Henry Luce Foundation, talked about the close relationship that the foundation has had with Hartford Seminary for many years.
“A seminary is a place that exists and brings folks to it with a calling,” he said. “Thank you for coming here to grow in the knowledge of God.”
Hartford Seminary, in particular, he said, has a special role to play in the world today.
“This seminary has been uniquely engaged with the Muslim world,” he said. “It is the forerunner of new models, new strategies, even new architecture for seminary education.”
He cited the Seminary’s flagship course, “Dialogue in a World of Difference,” as the perfect example of the “rich, real encounters that allowed you to see the world deeply through another’s eyes.”
“There has probably never been a moment in history where we have been more connected,” he said. “At the same time, we experience communities breaking down” and “signs of deep divisions in this land of ours.” While many want to withdraw from engagement, Hartford Seminary is a place where people go to meet the challenges head on.
“Today, I’m glad that Hartford Seminary was here for you and that you embraced what it had to offer you,” he said.
Friday’s ceremonies included the awarding of a posthumous Honorary Doctor of Divinity, honoris causa, to Dr. Jamal Barzinji, who died in 2015. Dr. Barzinji was a pioneer in Muslim American circles. Born in Iraq, he came to the United States and earned his Master’s and Ph.D. from Louisiana State University. Among many accomplishments, he served as President of the Muslim Students Association, was on the board of the Islamic Society of North America, and was a founding member of the International Institute of Islamic Thought (IIIT).
“He was involved in almost every major Muslim association in America,” Dr. Mansoor said.
Dr. Abubaker Al Shingieti, Executive Director of the International Institute of Islamic Thought and a member of Hartford Seminary’s Board of Trustees, accepted the award along with members of Dr. Barzinji’s family.
Among the awards given out on Friday was the Celie J. Terry Prize, which goes to a student who makes a significant impact on Hartford Seminary and the community. That prize went to Aida Mansoor, President of the Muslim Coalition of Connecticut, who also received her Master of Arts in Religious Studies.
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