Candler Celebrates Resilient, Dedicated Class of 2021

May 17, 2021

Emory University conferred degrees on 4,865 students at its 176th commencement exercises, which were held over two days in pared down ceremonies due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A total of 14 in-person commencement events representing Emory’s nine undergraduate and graduate schools took place May 14-16 at the Georgia World Congress Center.

Candler’s ceremony took place on May 14 at 3:00 p.m. Candler conferred a total of 152 degrees this year, which included 91 Master of Divinity, nine Master of Theology, 12 Master of Theological Studies, two Master of Religion and Public Life, five Master of Religious Leadership, one Master of Theological Studies/Juris Doctor, one Master of Divinity/Master of Business Administration, one Master of Divinity/Master of Public Health, and 30 Doctor of Ministry degrees.

Emory University President Gregory L. Fenves was on hand to confer the degrees, and praised Candler students’ resilience, dedication, empathy, creativity, and thoughtfulness as they earned their Emory degree during “an unprecedented moment in our history.”

“You’ve explored the depths of spirituality in order to provide pastoral leadership and help heal hearts and minds with messages of peace, joy, and hope. As scholars, teachers, and social advocates, you nurture communities of care and faith, and transform lives. There is no higher calling,” Fenves said.

He also thanked Dean Jan Love for her service as interim provost of Emory University since December 2019. “Along with so many others in the Emory community, I am profoundly grateful for your many contributions, your guidance, and your steadfast leadership under the most difficult circumstances.”

The ceremony included a presentation and video response from Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the U.S. National Institutes of Health, who received the Emory University President’s Medal. Fauci is only the sixth person to receive both an honorary degree from Emory (which he was awarded in 2003) and the President’s Medal.

Sue Haupert-Johnson 95T, resident bishop of the North Georgia Episcopal Area of The United Methodist Church, authorized the conferring of degrees upon the Class of 2021, while Susannah Davis 95T, chair of the Candler Alumni Board, offered a welcome to the newest alumni via video.

In her opening remarks, Dean Jan Love recognized Professor of Historical and Philosophical Theology David S. Pacini and Charles Howard Candler Professor of Medieval Christianity and Aquinas Professor of Historical Theology Philip Lyndon Reynolds, who are both retiring from the Candler faculty after 41 and 29 years respectively, and Associate Professor of Wesleyan and Methodist Studies Kevin M. Watson, who is leaving the faculty after seven years to serve as associate pastor of discipleship at First United Methodist Church of Waco, Texas.

The dean recognized Associate Professor of Religious Education and Director of Candler’s Doctor of Ministry Program Jennifer R. Ayres as the recipient of two teaching awards: the Vulcan Materials Company Teaching Excellence Award, which is conferred upon outstanding professors from select member campuses of the Georgia Independent College Association and recognizes exceptional teaching, commitment to students, and leadership to enhance the campus and Atlanta communities; and the United Methodist General Board of Higher Education and Ministry Exemplary Teacher Award, which recognizes remarkable teaching, leadership, and commitment to a value-centered education.

Associate Professor of Christian Ethics Elizabeth M. Bounds earned the Provost’s Distinguished Teaching Award for Excellence in Graduate and Professional Education, which recognizes outstanding scholars who excel as teachers within formal and informal educational settings.

In her formal address, Dean Love described the Class of 2021 as known for being “generous and mutually supportive in developing friendship,” with gifts for creative worship and a strong commitment to social justice, serving as poll chaplains during the 2020 election cycle and marching and working against white supremacy.

“Many of us have been through some of the toughest experiences of our lives in the last 14 months as we navigated not only the disease, death, and destruction of the pandemic, but also the longer and more well-known and more deeply entrenched disease of America’s original sin, racial injustice,” Love said. “We are exhausted. We need and we deserve a break, some rest, and some inspiration.”

She also read selected verses from Isaiah 43, reminding the graduates that God has called them by name, and is with them through all of life’s storms.

“We send you out now with degree in hand, deepened and broadened by your experience here, in hopes that your future in ministry and life has been enriched immeasurably by your experiences at Candler, even in exceptional circumstances. God is about to do a new thing in you as alumni to spread the good news of love, grace, hope, mercy, justice, and restored relationships.

“Go to change the world in Jesus’ name, with the assurance that in times when the boat seems so small on the ocean’s giant waves, the Lord will make a path through the mighty waters in the fiercest of storms.”

Photo: Emory Photo Video