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59 earn degrees from Hood Theological Seminary

By Shavonne Potts
spotts@salisburypost.com
LaTonya Thorpe has already done more with her degree than she probably ever thought. She’s inspired her two daughters to go to school and outdo her.
Thorpe, was one of 59 graduates at Hood Theological Seminary who received honors Saturday during its 2009 Commencement ceremony.
The Charlotte resident received a master of divinity degree after five years of hard work she said.
While going to school, it was a challenge for Thorpe to maintain her family obligations, she said.
Her daughters, Kylah, 14, and Amani, 11, said she’s encouraged them to further their education, “to go further than me,” Thorpe said.
Thorpe plans to go into pastoral counseling where she will specialize in family, marriage, substance abuse and mental counseling.
“I’m very excited,” she said before the ceremony.
Matt Bolen, from Stanly County, has been waiting for this moment all of his life.
He’s receiving a master’s degree in theological studies. He spent two years studying for the degree he said.
“Theology is so interesting to me,” Bolen said.
He hopes to teach in the public school sector or the community college level. His fiancee, Meredith Blalock, and parents, Mike and Bonnie Bolen, were in attendance to support him.
Andrew Smoke, also of Charlotte, was excited as well.
Smoke is receiving a doctorate of ministry after four years.
“It’s a long time coming,” he said.
Smoke said he had family members from Alabama and Florida there to support him. In 1991, he relieved a master of divinity degree from Hood.
Linda Bristow, of Sanford, said she hopes to become a chaplain after spending the past 4 1/2 years working on her master of divinity degree.
She is an associate pastor in Siler City in the AME Zion church. Her family and friends joined her to celebrate from Atlanta, Sanford and La Grange.
“It’s a wonderful experience, a transforming experience to go to school. I thank God for the opportunity,” Bristow said.
Bristow also received the Harlee H. Little Memorial Award, which is given to the senior student with the highest average in practical theology.
Haven Anderson will receive a master of divinity degree. He is pastor of Marvin AME Zion Church in Waxhaw. He started the program in 1999 and returned in 2006.
“I’ve always wanted to get my master’s,” he said.
Anderson said he is grateful.
Joyce Rutledge traveled from Birmingham, Ala., to support brother-in-law Charles Rutledge.
Charles received a master of divinity degree.
“I’m very excited. He has worked very hard,” she said.
He traveled all the way from Douglasville, Ga., or five hours to study at Hood.
His daughter, Emerald, 13, is also proud of her father.
“It took a while. He started when I was in the fifth grade,” she said.
Emerald said she remembers plenty of nights she helped type papers for her father, who types with one finger, she said laughing.
All joking aside, she was happy for her father to have reached his goal.
Monica Williams, of Charlotte, was there to see her husband, Shawn, who was receiving a master of divinity degree. “The whole family came from Orangeburg to see him,” she said.
“It’s been a long haul for him. I’m excited he’s here.”
Shawn attended classes every weekend to finally finish.
Pastor Martha Echols, of Charlotte, was attending to support one of the ministers in her church, Patricia Gainer, of Greensboro. Gainer was receiving a master of divinity degree.
The two attend Covenant Worship Center in Charlotte.
Echols said Gainer had been out of school for sometime. She’d received her undergraduate degree from North Carolina A&T State University.
Gainer was given a push from friends and family and is completely changing careers, Echols said.
She went to school for music performance.
“We are very excited about that next stage. This is a defining moment,” she said.
Ansel Grissett and other members of his church, Graham Chapel AME Zion Church in Riegelwood, drove three and a half hours in their church van to support Rev. Vincent Meares, their pastor.
“He’s been talking about this for a very long time. I’m very excited,” Grissett said.
Guest speaker Bishop George Washington Carver Walker Sr. spoke about a meaningful ministry for troubled times.
Walker said 38 years ago, he was privileged to sit where the graduates now sit. His graduating class consisted of three people.
“You just don’t know what I feel as I stand before you.”
Walker joked that he was so excited he was like an Easter story he’d heard. The story goes that Little Johnny was so excited and nervous to give his Easter speech that all he could get out was He…He…He…. His mother was off to the side whispering, “He is Risen.”
The audience laughed.
Walker talked about the state of the economy, auto industry and war.
He said there needs to be someone to step up.
“These are times you are called to ministry. Tomorrow as you step out into a new world, a world that doesn’t mind asking, ‘What difference will you make?’ You will be called to give an answer,” he said.

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