The 2020 Gomes Honorees work at the intersection of religious and disciplinary boundaries
Harvard Divinity School takes a different approach to the diversity of modern life than the “othering” that seems increasingly to roil societies around the world. Home to students from all major religious traditions, HDS seeks to be a crossroads where the study of religion is a vehicle not only for the expansion of knowledge, but also for exchange and encounter between people from a wide range of backgrounds. As scholars, religious leaders, and activists from different religious traditions and different walks of life, the 2020 Peter J. Gomes, STB ’68 Distinguished Alumni Honorees epitomize this ethos in all they do.
“Like so many of their fellow HDS alumni around the world, the 2020 Gomes Honorees cross religious, professional, and cultural divides to advance knowledge and serve communities,” says Dean David N. Hempton. “In so doing, they exemplify the School’s efforts to make a world of difference. I welcome them to the ranks of Harvard Divinity School’s honored graduates.”
Chosen each year by the HDS Alumni/Alumnae Council (AAC), the Gomes Honorees represent the wide range of human activity in which HDS graduates are engaged. This year, the Council recognizes:
Ephraim Isaac, BD ’63: A scholar and peacemaker whose career spans nearly three generations, Isaac is the director of the Center for Semitic Studies in Princeton, NJ and the chairman of the board of the Peace and Development Center of Addis Ababa.
Milia Islam, MTS ’04: A 2011 NAACP Woman of the Year and a former advisor to the Council on World Religions and Spiritualities, Milia Islam is a lifelong interfaith activist who now heads the South Coast Interfaith Council in Long Beach, CA.
Karen Meeker, MDiv ’94: A decorated colonel and chaplain in the United States Army, Karen Meeker directs recruiting and endorser Relations at the Army’s Office of the Chief of Chaplains in Washington D.C.
Abel Rodriguez, MTS ’04: Both a practicing immigration lawyer and an academic, Abel Rodriguez is director of the Center on Immigration and assistant professor of religion, law, and social justice at Cabrini University in Philadelphia, PA.
As they have in years past, the AAC also honors a non-alumna/us member of the HDS community. This year, the council recognizes Nitin Nohria, Dean of Harvard Business School, George F. Baker Professor of Administration, and stalwart friend of HDS.
“It is a wonderful honor to be included in this remarkable group,” Nohria said on being notified of the award, “as I have always believed that business can also be a powerful force for good in society.”
Healing Our Broken World
For AAC Chairperson Susan Hayward, MDiv ’07, the 2020 Gomes Honorees exemplify the Council’s year-long theme of “Border Crossings” chosen in recognition of the record number of migrants crossing boundaries traditionally perceived as fixed and timeless.
"HDS alumnx like the 2020 Gomes Honorees cross literal and figurative borders in their work to draw people together, advance justice, and deepen understanding of the transcendent sacred source that defies the false borders we construct in our world,” Hayward says. “I'm deeply grateful to the Gomes Selection Committee for their careful and joyful work of discernment to select this extraordinary slate."
Selection Committee Chair Michelle Goldhaber, MDiv ’05, says that, in assembling this year’s cohort of Gomes Honorees, her group wanted to choose alumni who transcended not only boundaries of religion and culture, but also professions, fields of knowledge, and race and ethnicity.
“In a world where borders and divisiveness are tearing people apart,” she says, “we are delighted to highlight these remarkable individuals, whose lives and work illuminate and amplify the core human values so many of us hold dear – integrity, human rights and dignity, justice and compassion.”
For Goldhaber and her fellow AAC members, the core values displayed by the 2020 honorees reflect those encountered at HDS. No matter what career path they’re on, students are steeped both in critical scholarship and in the “very human work” of applying what they learn so that, as graduates, they can go on to improve the diverse and complex world around them.
“We are so proud of our outstanding alumni/ae,” she says. “Whether through their scholarship, their peacebuilding, or some other vital work, they are healing our broken world with their tremendous hearts and minds.”
NOTE: Due to the Coronavirus outbreak, the Alumni/Alumnae Council plans to recognize the 2020 Gomes cohort alongside next year’s honorees in a ceremony on campus during the spring of 2021. In the meantime, look for stories and information about upcoming virtual events featuring these extraordinary individuals in the weeks and months ahead. And please join the Council—and the rest of the HDS community—in congratulating the 2020 Peter J. Gomes, STB ’68 Distinguished Alumni Honorees!