The tradition of HDS graduates speaking and acting publicly—and often prophetically—extends back to the School’s earliest years. In his address to the graduating class of 1838, Ralph Waldo Emerson, HDS ’26, railed against a church “which seems to totter to its fall, almost all life extinct.” Rev. Theodore Parker, HDS ’32, thundered away at slavery and war, and referred to God as both “Father” and “Mother.”
In recent years, few graduates exemplified the School’s public voice more powerfully than the late Rev. Peter J. Gomes STB '68, Plummer Professor of Christian Morals and Pusey Minister in Harvard’s Memorial Church, who risked his career in 1991 when he joined campus protests against homophobia and publicly acknowledged that he was gay. And few carry this tradition on more proudly than this year’s Gomes Memorial Honorees.
“The 2018 Gomes honorees include scholars, leaders, and activists,” says Dean David N. Hempton. "All are ethical, religiously literate leaders who engage and shape the public conversation with intellectual rigor and moral courage. We proudly 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:
- Robert Michael Franklin, MDiv ’78, the former president of Morehouse College, former director of the religion program at the Chautauqua Institute, a prolific author on social justice issues as a scholar of public theology, and a voice for moral leadership and formation within the academy;
- Jalane D. Schmidt, MDiv ’96, AM ’05, PhD ’05, a scholar-activist in the Religious Studies Department at the University of Virginia and a central and instrumental player in the resistance demonstrations in Charlottesville last summer;
- Simran Jeet Singh, MTS ’08, a religious studies scholar; an advocate for pluralism, inclusion, social justice issues; and a Sikh activist who works dispel myths about his religious tradition;
- Karen I. Tse, MDiv ’00, an ordained Unitarian Universalist minister, lawyer, international rights activist, and founder and CEO of International Bridges to Justice—an organization seeking to end the use of torture as an investigative tool around the world.
As in year's past, the 2018 Gomes honorees also include a non-alumna/us member of the HDS community. In keeping with this year’s theme of “public voice,” the AAC recognizes Ann D. Braude, Senior Lecturer on American Religious History and director of the Women’s Studies in Religion Program, whose efforts to curate the School's bicentennial exhibit “Faces of Divinity” shed light on the HDS's path from Unitarian origins to multireligious twenty-first century divinity school.
AAC Chairperson Margaret Rose, MDiv ’79, says that the council was mindful of the current political and cultural moment when it chose this group of honorees.
“In these divided times, it is more important than ever for people of all traditions—and no tradition at all—to create public space for many voices to be truly heard,” she says. “Our Gomes honorees have done this, building community, serving justice and broadening our worldview.”
Susan Hayward, MDiv ’07, chaired the AAC’s selection committee. She says her group received a record-number of nominees from the alumni community and that the review process was a labor of love.
“Reading through the nominations is always a treat,” she says. “We get to learn about the inspiring work many HDS alumni are doing around the world, in myriad fields, while simultaneously glimpsing the warm and supportive network of graduates who recognize and celebrate their colleagues' achievements. We couldn't be more excited about this year's honorees!”
The 2018 honorees remember their HDS years fondly and say they are grateful to be associated with the Rev. Peter Gomes, a scholar, author, and longtime minister of Harvard's Memorial Church, whose work the awards were established in 2013 to commemorate.
Robert Franklin calls Gomes “a person of sterling integrity, courage, and moral imagination who became the soul of Harvard University.”
“I will always cherish the time Rev. Gomes invested in helping me to prepare my HDS baccalaureate class sermon in 1978,” he says. “He was my mentor both while I was a student and thereafter as I led Morehouse College. I am humbled by the privilege of receiving an honor that bears his name.”
Jalane Schmidt remembers Peter Gomes from a seminar on liturgical preaching that she took with him while a student at HDS in the mid-1990s.
“Gomes was of course a master orator, and I am grateful to have learned the craft of rhetoric from such a gifted teacher and preacher,” she says. “Gomes called his students, and inspired his readers and listeners beyond Harvard Yard, to aspire to make change."
Today, Schmidt sees Gomes’ influence in her own academic and political work.
“At the end of the day, my task as a scholar-activist is to persuade—in the knowledge that the end is not guaranteed, and thus the work is an on-going act of faith,” she says. “The vocation is to address the public square—or a committed subset thereof—and to teach and inspire people by pointing to a prophetic vision which is rooted in common commitments and symbols, so that this group is mobilized and energized to accomplish its cause.”
Simran Jeet Singh, assistant professor of religion at Trinity University in Texas, was surprised and proud to be named an honoree. He calls his time at HDS “formative, joyful, and heartening.”
“I found teachers who could guide me, peers who shared my same passions, and thought partners who challenged me to learn and grow,” Singh explains. “The people at HDS helped mold my worldview and equip me with the necessary skills to engage in scholarship and activism. I would not be who I am without Harvard Divinity School, and for that alone, I am eternally grateful.”
Karen Tse, whose global NGO works in dozens of countries around the world to provide access to legal counsel and prevent torture, says that HDS helped her discover her own capacity to lead.
“The meaning of leadership came alive for me while I was at the Divinity School,” she says. “HDS gave me the chance to look within myself, understand that there were answers that I had, and gave me the confidence to go out and do it. I discovered the kind of leader I wanted to be and what I wanted that leadership to look like."
This year's non-alumna/us honoree, WSRP Director Ann Braude, says that she's both surprised and delighted to receive recognition from "a group I so highly esteem: the graduates of Harvard Divinity School.”
“Curating the ‘Faces of Divinity’ exhibit gave me a chance to get to know alums who predated me at HDS, as well as deeper stories of those I thought I knew," she says. "Our graduates are an extraordinary group, and I am truly honored to be selected to stand among them as a Gomes honoree.”
The Alumni/Alumnae Council will officially present the 2018 Gomes Honors on Thursday, April 12. The honorees will be presented with their awards at noon in a ceremony in 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 via the HDS website.
—by Paul Massari