By John Pierce

Jennifer Harris Dault received her Master of Divinity degree from Central Baptist Theological Seminary a week and a half after her graduating class — in a bit more casual setting.

Car trouble prevented Jennifer and her husband Allyn from completing the four-and-a-half-hour drive from their home in St. Louis to the seminary campus in Shawnee, Kan., on Dec. 8. Instead of pomp and circumstance, they experienced a leaking radiator and having their car towed to a mechanic.

“It was an emotional day,” said Jennifer.

Kindly, Heather Entrekin, Des Peres Chair of Congregational Health, accepted the diploma on her behalf. And the other graduates, who had traveled the educational road with Jennifer through Central’s new cohort-model program, sent thoughtful messages.

But seminary president Molly Marshall was not satisfied. So when her travels took her toward St. Louis, she made plans to present Jennifer with her diploma in person.

“I wanted to underscore my commendation of her as a woman in ministry,” said Marshall. “…I know how hard it still is for many women seeking placement as a pastor, so I wanted to encourage her personally. “

Jennifer’s husband works for Starbucks, so why not get a good deal on coffee drinks while celebrating this educational milestone? And her parents could attend the coffee shop celebration as well.

So, in this unusual setting, the M.Div. degree was bestowed upon Jennifer Harris Dault by President Molly Marshall, who offered the same formal words used when conferring the degrees on campus.

Allyn snapped an official graduation photo with the president’s phone — and some caffeinated onlookers unknowingly attended their first seminary graduation ceremony.

“We did get a lot of attention from the other store patrons as we stood for our little service,” said Jennifer.

Having drawn such attention, Molly asked if anyone else there wanted a degree. One man responded that he thought she was giving out marriage licenses.

To which Molly replied: “I can do that too.”

This personalized graduation service was not on the seminary calendar or a part of anyone’s plans. But it more than redeemed a difficult day for one graduate — who received her diploma and a special blessing from the seminary president.

“I’m deeply thankful for Central,” said Jennifer. “Molly went out of her way to make my graduation special.”

Jennifer said such care for students by faculty and staff was demonstrated throughout her educational experience. For the president, it is just how she chooses to carry out her work.

“I am a rather hands-on president,” said Molly. “Besides, I thought Starbucks would be a good place to recruit students!”


John Pierce

About John Pierce

John D. Pierce is editor of Nurturing Faith Journal — the signature publication of Baptists Today, Inc. He is also publisher of Nurturing Faith Books and Resources. Previously he served as managing editor of The Christian Index and as Baptist campus minister at Georgia Tech and Kennesaw State University. A native of Ringgold, Ga., he is a graduate of Berry College (B.A.), Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (M.Div.), and Columbia Theological Seminary (D.Min.). He speaks frequently in churches, consults with congregations concerning communications and holds interim pastorates.