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Southwestern Seminary celebrates firsts at 197th commencement

FORT WORTH, Texas (BP)–The global emphasis of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary was displayed May 3 when the school’s first Croatian student, Cuban-American woman and African American woman received degrees.
Three-hundred twenty-four graduates were awarded degrees during Southwestern’s 197th commencement ceremony at Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Fort Worth, Texas. Of the 324 graduates, 267 earned master’s degrees, 27 earned diploma studies degrees, one earned the certificate of master’s studies for laypersons and one earned a degree through the Southern Baptist Seminary Extension program.
Southwestern President Kenneth S. Hemphill said the ceremony is more than a graduation from seminary.
“It is a commissioning to Christian ministry,” Hemphill said, and he challenged the graduates to bear “Great Commission fruit” that remains. Hemphill said abiding in the vine and remaining committed to evangelism were keys to producing eternal fruit.
Marinko Kimmer, the seminary’s first graduate from the war-ravaged country of Croatia, is completing a journey that started in Jesuit school. His graduation with a master of arts in communication is a stepping stone in his hope to return to his native land to minister.
Kimmer was born in Germany but moved to Yugoslavia at a young age and entered a Catholic seminary to escape his alcoholic father. Kimmer also served in the Yugoslav army. During a visit to the United States in 1994, he was baptized in a Baptist church in Atlanta. He returned to the United States in 1996 and has been working on his degree at Southwestern since.
Southwestern’s international emphasis also was reflected when the first Cuban-American woman walked across the stage to receive a doctorate from the seminary. Esther Diaz-Bolet, who moved with her family from Cuba to the United States in 1960, earned a doctor of philosophy from the school of educational ministries.
Diaz-Bolet earned a master of arts in religious education from Southwestern in 1989 and has served as an adjunct professor of administration at the seminary. She also is an instructor at Tarrant County Junior College and has been the recipient of a scholarship from the Hispanic Theological Initiative.
Cassandra Jones became Southwestern’s first African American woman to earn a Ph.D. at the spring commencement. Jones, of San Francisco, Calif., earned a master of arts in religious education from Southwestern and a bachelor of arts from Spelman College. She graduated with a doctorate from the school of educational ministries.
Jones serves as national music director of the National Baptist Convention, USA, the largest black Baptist denomination.
The global reach of the seminary did not stop there. Twenty-eight students earned doctoral degrees, four of whom are missionaries to Malawi, Malaysia, Uganda and Southeast Asia. Four others already are teaching in seminaries and universities across the country.
Hemphill said it was exciting to see these first female Ph.D. graduates and the first Croatian graduate. “These remind us of our global impact for the future.”
Hemphill said the size of Southwestern’s spring graduating class, which was much larger than the size of the average U.S. seminary, continues to be impressive.
“Southern Baptists can be confident that their Cooperative Program gifts are being well-spent at Southwestern,” Hemphill added, “as we continue to produce a mission force committed to going around the world.”
Of the 324 graduates who took part in the ceremony, 169 were from the school of theology, 131 from the school of educational ministries, 22 from the school of church music, one from lay theological studies and one that earned a certificate through the Southern Baptist Seminary Extension program.
During Southwestern’s 91 years, more than 35,000 degrees have been awarded. At Saturday’s commencement, a total of 378 degrees were awarded; almost half of those were master of arts in Christian education or master of divinity with biblical languages.

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  • Cory J. Hailey