The recipients of the 2016 Peter J. Gomes STB '68 Memorial Honors transcend categories. From a Yale Law School graduate who uses storytelling to fight hate crimes against Muslims and Sikhs, to a naval officer who advocates for peace, this year's group boldly crosses boundaries to work for a better world.
"The 2016 Gomes honorees leverage religious resources in innovative and unexpected ways to illuminate, engage, and serve," said HDS Dean David N. Hempton. "They represent the many HDS alumni who reach across disciplines and across professions to make a difference in a wide range of fields. I'm delighted to welcome them to the fellowship of honored graduates."
Chosen each year by the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council (AAC), the Gomes honorees represent the diverse personal and professional paths on which HDS graduates have an impact. This year, the council recognizes the activist, filmmaker, and lawyer Valarie K. Kaur, MTS '07; the Rev. Cynthia L. G. Kane, MDiv '96, a Lieutenant Commander in the Chaplain Corps of the United States Navy; Betsee Parker, MDiv '85, an Episcopal priest whose philanthropy supports education, community development, and public health in Africa; and the Rev. Dr. Alton B. Pollard III, MDiv '81, dean of the Howard University Divinity School. As in years past, the AAC will also recognize a member of the HDS faculty for their exceptional scholarship and contributions to HDS. This year's faculty honoree will be emeritus professor Preston N. Williams, PhD '67, Houghton Research Professor of Theology and Contemporary Change.
AAC Chairperson S. Joshua Thomas, MTS '02, called the 2016 group "inspiring." "The Gomes Honorees annually make us proud of our School, of our connection to it, and to this exceptional community of engaged alumni as well," he said. "This year's cohort is no different. It's a real privilege to honor these five individuals."
Thomas has used this year's Divinity Dialogues alumni discussion series to explore "risk-taking" at HDS and beyond. Margaret R. Rose, MDiv '79, who chaired the Gomes Honors selection committee, said that theme guided her group's work.
"We are always seeking alumni who have done great things since their years at HDS," Rose said. "And there are many to choose from. This year, though, we took Joshua's idea of HDS alumni as risk-takers to heart, and we sought individuals who have been bold in their lives and service to others. The 2016 honorees reflect this."
The 2016 Gomes Honorees pronounced themselves surprised and humbled to be associated with one of HDS's most venerable graduates, the late Rev. Peter Gomes, a scholar, author, and longtime minister of Harvard's Memorial Church whose work the awards were established in 2013 to commemorate. Honoree Valarie Kaur recalled Gomes address at the Convocation ceremony that opened her first year at HDS, and his exhortation that students engage with the public conversation on religion.
"He said, 'It is ... urgent ...that religious analysis be provided in a world where religions and their policies are front page news,'" Kaur remembered. "That task remains central to my life as an activist, lawyer, and Sikh thinker."
Lt. Commander Kane recalled Rev. Gomes as "intimidating, colorful, an expectation defier," and said that she strived to follow his example of "the preacher/pastor/prophet."
"As a Unitarian Universalist minister and an active-duty Navy chaplain, I work to bridge diverse worlds and to be a spiritual companion to our service members and their families," she said. "I am inspired by Rev. Gomes' example and humbled to be among the honorees of this award in his memory."
Betsee Parker found out that she was a Gomes honoree as she was about to board a plane to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to attend a meeting of the African Union. She described herself as "speechless," and thanked HDS for giving her "the vision to see that my possibilities were limitless."
The Rev. Dr. Alton Pollard said that news of recognition by his fellow HDS alumni was "an unexpected gift and glad surprise."
"Peter J. Gomes represents our better humanity—faithful, thoughtful, embracing, and wise—ever attuned to the heart of God's people," he said. "I thank HDS for inviting me to walk in the company of a luminary so beloved and a colleague and friend to many."
The Alumni/Alumnae Council will officially present the 2016 Gomes Honors Thursday, April 7, at noon in a ceremony at Andover Chapel on the HDS campus. Following its conclusion, there will be a celebratory luncheon in the Braun Room, along with the final installment of the year's Divinity Dialogues series, featuring the honorees as panelists. All alumni and friends of the School can request a ticket online at the HDS website.