St. Vladimir's Commencement, 2008

dsc_0258.jpgAt St Vladimir’s Seminary, the Class of 2008 joyfully celebrated Commencement under a big white tent on Saturday, May 17, 2008. There were twenty-nine students graduating in five academic programs and for the first time, the ceremony included the awarding of hoods to the graduates. The seminarians received twelve Master of Divinity degrees, eight Master of Arts degrees in General Theology, two MAs in Religious Education, five Master of Theology degrees, and two Doctor of Ministry degrees.

His Beatitude Metropolitan Herman, of the Orthodox Church in America and president of the seminary, was joined by His Grace Antoun, Bishop of Miami and the Southeast of the Antiochian Orthodox Christian Archdiocese of North America in handing out the degrees. Representing the Malankara (Indian) Orthodox Syrian Church was The Very Rev. Dr. P.S. Samuel Cor-Episcopa.

The day began with a bright paschal Divine Liturgy, with Metropolitan Herman presiding. During the Liturgy, Priest John Behr, Dean, was elevated to Archpriest, Priest Alexander Rentel, Assistant Professor in Canon Law and Byzantine Studies as well as Ecclesiarch was awarded the dignity of the gold cross, and Protodeacon Kirill Sokolov, Director of Systems and Lecturer in Liturgics, was awarded the dignity of wearing the kamilavka.

At two in the afternoon, the Commencement Ceremony began with a brief prayer service of thanksgiving. Making a colorful procession, students, graduates, faculty, and trustees walked down from the chapel to a large tent on the front lawn joyfully singing, “Christ is Risen.” Proud parents, grandparents, wives, children, other family members and friends eagerly awaited them in the tent.

Fr. Michael Oleksa, a recognized expert on Alaskan missionaries, gave the keynote address. He is a graduate of St Vladimir’s Seminary and has spent the last 35 years in Alaska, serving as village priest, university professor, consultant on intercultural relations and communications and authoring several books on Alaska native cultures and history.  Fr. Michael shared the remarkable life stories of St Herman, St Innocent, and St Yakov of Alaska and encouraged the graduating class to hold up these three foundational missionary saints as examples in their future ministries, emphasizing especially the need to love and learn about those you will serve. One graduate said, “With his animated storytelling, Fr. Michael brought these saints and founders of our church to life.” The Valedictorian, Rico Gabriel Monge, built on the theme of needing to love and understand each other as a lesson he learned living in the seminary community. He also urged his classmates and all those present to consider the limitations of putting yourself in the others shoes and how easily it can lead to judgment. Rico was also the recipient of the St Basil’s award, which is given annually to students in the Master of Divinity program who rank the highest in academic achievement, one from each class year. Recipients from the junior (first-year) and middler (second-year) classes will be announced at the start of the fall 2008 semester. The Salutatorian, Evan Freeman, spoke on behalf of the “younger brothers and sisters” wishing the graduates success in their service to the church, and thanking them for their advice and friendship. 

During a warm and sunny outdoor reception complete with tasty snacks, faculty and returning students congratulated the graduates. Hugs and smiles and digital cameras were all around as the graduates celebrated the end of their seminary days.

This year, graduation included several activities leading up to Saturday’s ceremony. On Tuesday and Wednesday evening, the commencement speaker, Fr. Michael Oleksa gave two presentations open to the entire community. Thursday featured a bus trip for the graduating seniors to the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City with a private tour by one of the curators and commentary by Adjunct SVS Professor Richard Schneider. Thursday evening the whole community enjoyed a cookout on seminary grounds hosted by the Board of Trustees followed by a dance party. Friday morning a continental breakfast for graduating seniors was hosted by Fr. David Barr, the Alumni Association President.

Concurrent with the end of the semester, the Board of Trustees held their annual spring meeting and especially enjoyed socializing with the seminary community during the cookout. 

May God grant the graduates of the Class of 2008 along with their families many years and success in their future ministries!