Six students honored at PSR’s 144th commencement

May 26, 2011

PSR held its 144th commencement on May 22 at First Congregational Church of Oakland. The commencement speaker was The Very Rev. Dr. Jane Shaw, dean of Grace Cathedral. Six students were honored from among the outstanding graduating class for excellence in the areas of academic achievement and community building; reflection on issues of religious ethics; preaching; and writing on queer theology and religion.  

Each year at commencement, the PSR Alumni/ae Association gives its Koinonia Award to students who embrace the school's sense of community, actively participate in campus life, and demonstrate academic excellence. (Koinonia is a Greek word that appears frequently in the New Testament that means community, fellowship, and sharing.) This year, PSR President Riess Potterveld presented the Koinonia Award to two MDiv students.     

Noting the work of Nancy Bacon on the Dismantling Racism Committee, the Students of Color and Allies group, and the senior gift committee, Potterveld quoted one of her admirers: “She is the kind of person who keeps things moving forward.” Bacon also sings in the PSR Chorale and started a “Community Dream Group” that met regularly and nurtured students’ spirituality. As a fellow student said of Bacon, “Her quiet demeanor hides a heart that thirsts for justice, solidarity, and truth.”


Potterveld honored Miak Siew for “his academic excellence, welcoming spirit, and involvement at almost every level of the PSR community.” An active member of the CAPSR Council, the Dismantling Racism Committee, the Racial Justice Advocacy Group, the Students of Color and Allies group, a student representative on the presidential search committee, a participant in the CLGS API roundtable, and a founding member of EQARS (Emerging Queer API Religions Scholars), Potterveld said of Siew, “he has the ability to create a deeper sense of community wherever he shows up.”


The Michael M. Mendiola Award for Ethics is given to a graduating student who writes an outstanding essay on the subject of ethics. PSR assistant professor of ethics and social thought Randall Miller noted that Mendiola was “a gifted scholar with abiding interests in biomedical ethics, the problem of suffering, and the intersections between religion and sexuality.” Miller presented the 2011 award to Bristol Huffman for her essay on the need to reform the International Monetary Fund and the World Bank to make them more just and equitable institutions.


PSR presents the Paul Wesley Yinger Preaching Award to one or more graduating MDiv students judged to be outstanding preachers with exemplary dramatic skills. The award is named for a former PSR trustee who was an acclaimed United Church of Christ preacher. This year, PSR’s Vice President for Institutional Advancement Kathi McShane gave the award to three graduates.


Of award winner Paige Rawson, McShane said, “She brings to her preaching a contagious passion for God and God’s people. With humor, grace, wisdom and energy, she demonstrates a preaching voice that is compelling because it is both vulnerable and powerful.”   


McShane quoted award winner MacArthur Flournoy’s preaching instructor, Douglass Fitch, saying that in one class, “MacArthur preached a sermon that moved us so much that we had to take a break; we were caught up in the spirit, with tears and transformation. He has tremendous insight into scripture, brilliant social analysis; he is funny, moving, engaging and prophetic. He has a way of moving people that comes from a deep authentic place…He preaches ‘into’ the hearts of his hearers.”


Finally, one talented graduating student, Jakob Hero, was honored twice for his prophetic voice. In presenting Hero with the Yinger Preaching Award, McShane said, “Jakob is personable and articulate and able to address topics others would be afraid to handle.  He does so in a disarming manner that reveals the importance of addressing these topics with the sensitivity that a sermon allows.”

The Center for Lesbian and Gay Studies in Religion and Ministry (CLGS) also presented Hero with the Marcella Althaus-Reid Award, named for the late Latin American feminist and queer theologian, for the best student essay in queer religion and theology. CLGS Executive Director Bernard Schlager and Senior Director for Academic Research and Resources Jay Johnson presented the 2011 award for Hero’s essay, “Toward a Queer Theology of Flourishing: Transsexual Embodiment, Subjectivity, and Moral Agency.”