Honors Day Highlights Excellence in Vocational and Academic Pursuits

April 20, 2022

After two years of virtual ceremonies necessitated by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Candler community gathered in person on April 7 to celebrate vocational and academic excellence in its traditional Honors Day Convocation. Here is a recap of the awards and their recipients.


Danny-Watson-Jr-web.jpgThe Charles O. Smith Jr. Scholarship Award is given with the support of Deen Day Smith and presented to a rising senior with exceptional promise for service in ministry in the Baptist tradition. This year’s recipient is Danny Watson Jr., whose deep passion for environmental justice is expressed in exploring how caring for the earth and God’s creation can be meaningful approaches to honoring God’s call. Watson credits Contextual Education and Candler’s rigorous theological engagement as central to his growth, and he looks forward to serving within Baptist parish ministry.

Christopher Ray AlexanderThe Pitts Library Research Scholarship Award is presented to the student who demonstrates creativity in research, maturity in theological thought and excellence in using library resources to mount an argument, all demonstrated through a submitted research project. This year’s recipient is Christopher Ray Alexander, who is noted for openly embracing the rigors of his professors while appreciating the diversity of thought in the conversations, contributions and welcoming spirit of his classmates and colleagues. His research submission reflects his desire to glimpse a new horizon of spirituality free from division, hatred, scarcity, and fear.

Jameisha BrownThe Berta R. and James T. Laney Award in Contextual Education is presented to a third-year MDiv student who has completed both years of Contextual Education and whose engagement with the practices of ministry exemplifies H. Richard Niebuhr’s concern to do theology as simultaneous reflection and action carried out within the personal and social context of love of God and neighbor. This year’s recipient is Meisha Brown, celebrated for her capacity to bring the entirety of her gifts together in service of the church and world, imagining how they might combine in unique ways to serve God’s creation.

Barry E LeeThe Erskine-Smith-Moseley Award was established to honor Candler’s earliest Black academic appointments. It is given annually to a student of the Black Church Studies Program who portrays prophetic and compassionate leadership. This year’s winner is Barry E. Lee. Lee credits the patient and diligent instruction he received from “some of the brightest theological minds known to humanity” as essential to his professional capacity to meet the religious and social challenges of the twenty-first century.


Scott TaylorScott Taylor received the United Methodist First Career Seminary Award, presented to a United Methodist student for whom ministry will be a first career and who has demonstrated outstanding scholarship and leadership. Taylor names the community within Candler as a centerpiece to his discovery of love, trust and resiliency and promotes theological formation through the harmonious blending of academic rigor and compassionate embrace of one’s authentic vocation.


Nicholas GraingerNicholas Grainger received the United Methodist Seminary Award, given to a second-year, full-time, degree-seeking United Methodist student who exhibits unusual promise of usefulness in the local parish and who demonstrates outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. A member of the Bonhoeffer Formation Community, Grainger has found meaning and purpose in serving through the Teaching Parish program as a student pastor at Haralson United Methodist Church in Haralson, Ga.

Wesley SpargoThe United Methodist Foundation for Christian Higher Education Award is presented each year to a rising MDiv junior, middler and senior who have demonstrated outstanding scholarship and leadership ability. The recipient in the rising junior category is Wesley Spargo, who will begin a Master of Divinity degree at Candler in the fall of 2022.



Grant PerryThe recipient in the rising middler category is Grant Perry. Perry says that at Candler he has learned that the body of Christ is much larger and more diverse than anyone could ever imagine. As he expands his faith convictions and explores the way our expressions of God can give life, he continually discovers the reciprocity of God’s love moving through him as he moves through and within the world.


Emily CastelloeThe recipient in the rising senior category is Emily-Elizabeth Castelloe, who says she has discovered great joy in redefining the meaning of community at Candler and within The United Methodist Church. In preparation for a life in ministry as an elder in the North Carolina Conference, Castelloe continues to cultivate her unwavering passion for Christian formation in a post-pandemic church and world.


Clayton C.J. Lord Jr.Clayton (CJ) Lord Jr. received the Russell E. Richey Award, presented to a student who has demonstrated excellence in Wesleyan studies. Lord has embraced his scholarship while appreciating and uplifting the community of faculty, staff and students within Candler. He is a dedicated servant leader who looks forward to serving alongside his Candler classmates as they answer the collective call to transform the world through ministry.


Daniel LevineDaniel Levine received the Fellowship Seminarian Award, which is presented to the United Methodist senior who displays outstanding leadership in worship arts. Levine has been a vital member of the Candler worship community, joyfully participating in various roles, including serving as the preacher for the 2022 Teaching Parish Day service. He looks forward to applying the lessons and skills learned at Candler in the communities he will be appointed to serve.


Katie DeanThe Hoyt Hickman Award of the Order of St. Luke is presented to the senior who has made a significant contribution to the worship and prayer life of the school through acts of liturgical leadership and pastoral care. This year’s recipient is Katie Dean, who joined the Office of Worship in her first year. Since then, she has come to identify the process of creating meaningful worship through prayer, song and trust in the Holy Spirit as a spiritual practice and a form of pastoral care. Her goal is the creation of a ministry grounded in lovingkindness as a response to God’s everlasting love for humanity.

Jared RamosJared Ramos received the Frederick Buechner Award, established by the Frederick Buechner Center of Cambridge, Massachusetts, and given to the student who best exemplifies the imagination, creativity, and literary excellence in preaching that are hallmarks of Buechner’s own preaching and writing. Ramos embodies preaching as a living art, expressed through service in community and commitment to God’s call. He is inspired by the quest to be a better person through the exploration of his truth, finding his own voice and belief in the transformative power of a good story.

Asia LernerAsia Lerner received the John W. Rustin Award, presented to the student who, in the opinion of the preaching faculty, best exhibits the capacity for prophetic preaching. Lerner has enjoyed the ecumenical experience at Candler while embracing the plethora of possibilities for developing ministerial resources necessary for robust congregational engagement. She credits her Pentecostal background as foundational in shaping her voice as she continues to learn from faculty, staff and students.

Tiffany MackeyTiffany Mackey received the John Owen Smith Award, presented to the senior who is best able to communicate the gospel faithfully and imaginatively through preaching. One of the most meaningful gifts Tiffany has exhibited during her time at Candler is the ability to merge prophetic imagination with creative learning. She has discovered a greater appreciation for the art of preaching each time she has had the opportunity to intersect her love of the sacred word with her passion for advocacy.


David FitzerDavid Fitzer received the Nolan B. Harmon Award, presented to a second-year student who has shown the most marked improvement during the first two years at Candler. During his time at Candler, Fitzer has served in various capacities, dedicating his time and talents to nurturing the community and building bridges of understanding between diverse students. He sees Candler as an expansive environment that challenges him to think critically about how to utilize his gifts and talents effectively for God’s people.

Justala SimpsonJustala Simpson received the James D. and Alice Slay Award, which is presented to a second-year student who exhibits promise for pastoral ministry through outstanding academic performance and achievement. Simpson joined the Office of Worship in the fall of 2020, and since that time has applied her gifts, including her ability and passion for bringing together students who had never shared physical space but who would ultimately support each other with heart and mind. She has also proven her leadership by providing academic and spiritual support for her fellow classmates.

Salmoon BashirThe Ruth Sewell Flowers Award is given to a senior who has shown marked growth in ministerial qualifications during the three years at Candler. This year’s recipient, Salmoon Bashir, has flourished both academically and socially. He has participated in the chaplaincy program and been a Candler Advantage recipient working as a Westside Fellow in the city of Atlanta. He has been transformed by his efforts to help colleagues find resources. He is an activist within the student community and a good neighbor who practices radical hospitality.

Jazzy JohnsonJasmine “Jazzy” Johnson received the Claude H. Thompson Award, presented to a student who demonstrates concern that the gospel of Christ comes to concrete expression in the lives of men and women through acts of justice and reconciliation. Deeply motivated by her concern and care for disparate communities, Johnson leads resistance efforts in what she describes as continued state-sanctioned violence against historically disenfranchised communities. She upholds the belief that the most compelling aspect of the gospel of Jesus is what she calls “breaking open kinship networks so that all may experience belonging and healing.”

Lindsey FaustLindsey Faust received the G. Ray Jordan Award, presented to the senior who shows unusual promise for usefulness in ministry and demonstrates excellence in integrating academic study with constructive leadership and service. Faust has an extraordinary capacity to integrate academic study with a cohesive pastoral vision. As one who identifies as both queer and Catholic, Faust leans into a deep desire to seek justice for LGBTQ+ Catholics, who have historically found that the coexistence of one’s faith and one’s identity was not always possible. They have named Candler’s rigorous academics as key to shaping their capacity to embrace the call to examine identities and communities critically through the framework of love and friendship for other queer Christians.

Deidre Jonese AustinJonese Austin received the Candler Community Service Award, presented to the graduating student who has given outstanding service to the Candler community. Austin has been an example of tireless, undaunted leadership and service over the last three years. Her involvement includes being a member of Candler Voices of Imani; serving in leadership roles with C3, Candler Women and the Baptist Student Community; and engaging with programs at Lee Arrendale State Prison. In every way she reflects the qualities of dedicated service to her classmates and colleagues.


Daniel LevineDaniel Levine received the Boone M. Bowen Award, which is presented to the student who, in the opinion of the biblical studies faculty, has the best record in biblical Hebrew. Building on his exceptional performance in the classroom, Levine has been able to apply what he has learned within his concentration in Leadership in Church and Community in service to his teaching parish community at Atlanta’s Grace United Methodist Church.


Emily ElderEmily Elder received the Chad Davis Memorial Award, which was established by Dr. Sara Mandell in memory of the Rev. James Chadwick Davis, a 1959 graduate of Candler. The Bible faculty selects a recipient who has done well in Old or New Testament courses. Elder credits the exploration of Scripture at Candler as central to her discerning a vocational call to foster belonging and inclusivity in the Church through storytelling and the study of the Bible.


The Mary Katherine (Myki) Mobley Memorial Award is presented to an MTS student who demonstrates both academic excellence and significant social concern. This year’s recipient is Ismail Bowers. Bowers studied Islam in Morocco prior to attending Candler, and he is recognized for his extraordinary capacity for ecumenical scholarship. He expresses gratitude to his professors for instilling in him a love and respect for all people, irrespective of religious and ideological differences.

The Award for Academic Excellence is presented to MDiv and MTS seniors who, in the opinion of the faculty, have achieved the highest academic excellence. Traditionally, these students have the honor of serving as student marshals at Emory’s Commencement exercises, leading the procession of theology graduates and representing their fellow graduates on stage when the Emory president formally confers their degrees.

Melissa BaugherThe MTS Award for Academic Excellence is given to the MTS senior who has achieved the highest academic excellence. This year’s recipient is Melissa Halstead Baugher. She has studied and worked with the accomplished, diverse faculty and students at Candler, and this experience has informed her love of academia. She hopes to continue studying and writing in the area of U.S. religious history.

Five students were presented with the MDiv Award for Academic Excellence, representing some of the brightest minds at Candler who have exhibited extraordinary capacities for insightful leadership, transformational engagement, deeply informed activism and a willingness to contribute generously to the intellectual life of the Candler community. They are Emily Elder, Jazzy Johnson, Amy Lazzaroni, Asia Lerner and Allie Williams. All have left an indelible mark on their classmates and enriched the classroom experience with their academic strength, substantive writing and course contributions.

MDiv Award for Academic Excellence winners 2022


Sarah-Bogue-Web.jpgFor the second consecutive year, Sarah Bogue, assistant professor in the practice of the history of Christianity and director of digital learning, received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Faculty Member, conferred by the student body. As Candler responded to the pandemic over the past two years, Bogue’s expertise in technology, pedagogical support of faculty and attention to students’ needs were key to the school’s success in online learning. She is noted for her innovation in the classroom, encouragement of individual expression and compassionate support of students.

Shelly HartShelly Hart, senior director of academic administration and registrar, received the award for Outstanding Service to the Candler Community by a Staff Member, conferred by the student body. She is noted for her organization and attention to detail, but especially outstanding are her timely responsiveness to students’ questions and her help when issues arise. She overlays her professional competency with kindness, a valued combination that students truly appreciate.


ashly-cargle-thompson-Web.jpgSusan Reynolds, assistant professor of Catholic studies, received the “On Eagle’s Wings” Award for Excellence in Teaching, conferred by the senior class in recognition of faithful and dedicated service. Her teaching invites students to interpret Scripture for themselves while giving them the tools to do so. She cultivates open, robust dialogue and critical thinking in an atmosphere of respect for differing viewpoints, always with a view to helping students learn and succeed.

Congratulations to all of this year’s awardees!