Virginia Theological Seminary Celebrates 196th Commencement

Media Contact: Curtis Prather 
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(Alexandria, VA) Virginia Theological Seminary (VTS) celebrated its 196th Commencement today, awarding 57 students with degrees of Master in Divinity, Master of Arts, Doctor of Ministry, Diploma in Theology, and Diploma in Anglican Studies, representing over 30 dioceses and six different countries.
“This moment is the moment when we realize the heart of our vocation as a Seminary,” said the Very Rev. Ian S. Markham, Ph.D., dean and president of VTS. “Our graduates are going into the world to preach the Gospel. They will make a difference in countless lives. For this moment I am deeply grateful.”

The commencement address was given by the Rev. Fleming Rutledge, D.D., author, theologian, and priest (pictured, with Dean Markham). Ordained to the diaconate in 1975, Rutledge was one of the first women ordained to the priesthood of the Episcopal Church.

“Each and every one of you has a vocation,” said Rutledge. "You have pursued that vocation through your years here. Through much hard work, no doubt with much questioning and uncertainty, as well as success. Through the final push to commencement, and now here you are! My privilege is to celebrate your achievement, and to join with all of those who are here today who are proud of your accomplishments. But now, here is a correction to what I just said: I said that 'you had perused your vocation.' That is only secondarily true. What will carry you through whatever lies before you is this primary truth: it is not you have perused your vocation - it is your vocation that has pursued you. And in that piece of good news... you will find your strength and your salvation." 

During the ceremony, the Anglican Communion Prize, which recognizes a graduating student who has shown an outstanding commitment to discerning the mission of God through 
World Anglicanism, go to Yoimel González Hernández from the Episcopal Diocese of Washington.

The Thomas Underwood Dudley Award for Reading and Scripture Liturgy, awarded to graduating students who, in the opinion of the faculty, have demonstrated excellence in the public reading and interpretation of the Scriptures and the Liturgy, was given to Brit Bjurstrom Frazier, from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles.

Established in 2018 by Amelia “Amy” Dyer, Ph.D., the James Maxwell professor emerita of Christian Education and Pastoral Theology, in honor of her husband, the Rt. Rev. Mark Dyer, the Bishop Mark Dyer Prize for Theological Refection recognizes a graduating senior who has developed theological skills and insights to support preaching and service. This year, the prize was given to Andrew Arakawa, from the Episcopal Diocese of Hawaii. 

The Episcopal Preaching Foundation Award, sponsored by the Episcopal Preaching Foundation, is bestowed upon a graduating Masters-level student who, in the estimation of the Dean and Faculty, has demonstrated the most improvement in preaching. This year’s recipient is Jennifer Pilat, from the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina.

Established by the Honorable Judge Ronnie A. Yoder “to advance the study of love as an appropriate center of Christian theology, life, preaching, and practice, and to explore love as an ecumenical theme unifying all of humankind’s religions,” the Ronnie A. Yoder Scholarship for 2019 was awarded to Michael Palmisano, from the Episcopal Diocese of Pennsylvania. 

The recipient of the 2019 Susan Ford Chair, a gift of Susan Ford to a member of the graduating class who has exhibited a strong commitment to the community life and mission of the Seminary, is Sarah Bentley Allred, from the Episcopal Diocese of Southwestern Virginia.

Brit Bjurstrom Frazier, from the Episcopal Diocese of Los Angeles, is the recipient of the Charles and Janet Harris Award. This award is given each year 
to a candidate for Holy Orders who have demonstrated academic excellence and leadership ability.

The Doctoral Thesis Award is given to one graduating doctoral student who has written an exceptional thesis with clarity, depth, and boundedness that addresses a higher aim of Christian life, service, and leadership. During this ceremony, Julianne Elisa Wallace, B.A., M.T.S., received the Doctoral Thesis Award for her thesis “Claiming a Vocation: Towards Articulating Identity for Franciscan Higher Education.”

Virginia Theological Seminary also conferred the Degree of Doctor in Divinity, honoris causa, to the Rt. Rev. Carlye J. Hughes 
’05, the eleventh bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Newark; the Rev. Gordon W. Lathrop, Th.D., professor emeritus, United Lutheran Seminary; Gail Ramshaw, Ph.D., professor emerita of Religion, La Salle University; and the Rev. Canon Charles Kevin “C.K.” Robertson, Ph.D., ’93, canon to the Presiding Bishop. 

The Class of 2019’s class gift is 
the financial contribution to an outdoor patio that will be an extension of Cafe 1823. This space on campus will serve as a dedicated place to further the joy of gathering with friends, family, and guests.

David H. Charlton, chairman of the board of trustees, concluded Commencement by acknowledging the retirements of the Rev. Robert W. Prichard, Ph.D., the Arthur Lee Kinsolving Professor Emeritus of Christianity in America and Instructor in Liturgics, and Timothy F. Sedgwick, Ph.D., the Clinton S. Quin Professor Emeritus of Christian Ethics. Together they have served VTS for a combined 61 years. 

For the twelfth consecutive year, the service was streamed live via the VTS website.

You can click here to watch the full service.

Founded in 1823 as a beacon of hope in a country new and finding its way, Virginia Theological Seminary has led the way in forming leaders of the Episcopal Church, including: the Most Rev. John E. Hines (VTS 1933, D.D. 1946), former presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church; the Rt. Rev. John T. Walker (VTS 1954, D.D. 1978), the first African-American bishop of the Episcopal Diocese of Washington; and theologian, author and lay preacher Ms. Verna J. Dozier (VTS D.D. 1978). Serving the worldwide Anglican Communion, Virginia Theological Seminary educates approximately 25% of those being ordained who received residential theological education. Visit Virginia Seminary online at
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