Rev. Margaret Obama on right with UTS president, Dr. Richard PanzerRev. Margaret Obama on right with UTS president, Dr. Richard PanzerFriends, family and fellow students enthusiastically applauded as twenty-two students received their diplomas at the 35th commencement ceremony of the Unification Theological Seminary (UTS) at its New York City campus on Thursday, May 19, 2011. The 15 students receiving their Masters in Religious Education included Rev. Margaret Obama from Kaisumu, Kenya, U.S. President Barack Obama’s aunt, who wrote her thesis on “Religious Education to Support Orphaned Teen Girls in Kenya: a Curriculum.” Rev. Obama has told friends that she will spend the coming year doing pastoral care in service to her local church, the Church of the Incarnation, in Jersey City, New Jersey.

“I learned so many good things at UTS,” Rev. Obama said in an interview. “Many churches concentrate on taking care of their own, but the Unification community focuses upon serving those outside their own group,” she said. “They [the Unificationists] cherish family values, making husbands, wives and children the priorities, and I believe that by promoting family values, they are building world peace, because peace in the family easily extends to the larger world,” she said in a telephone interview. Rev. Obama says that she became involved with Unificationists after attending seminars of the Women’s Federation for World Peace in Kenya in 2005.

Other graduates included Masahiro Izawa and Kyoko Sakai from Japan, Wonhee Lee and Seonghe Park from Korea, and Erick Rodriguez from Columbia. Mr. Izawa, who is the father of three children, wrote his RE Project on “The Spiritual Education of Children.” Mrs. Sakai wrote her RE Project on “Women’s Roles as Natural Educators in Their Families.”

Mr. Lee wrote his RE Project on “Faith Education to Strengthen the Life of Faith in Middle-aged Women in the Unification Church of Japan.” Mr. Park wrote his RE Project on “Practical Preparation and Education for Successful Married Life of Second Generation Couples.” Mr. Rodriguez wrote his RE Project on “How to Develop Healthy Self-Perception and Self-Esteem through a Mind-Body Unity Meditation Program for Character Education.” Other graduates included: Jack Harford, Michel Kahandja Imbongo, Jeongsun Lee, Everton McPherson, and Daegil No. Jennifer Fleischmann, Dale Garrett, Dale Hoffman, and Ilse Sutchar, all of whom graduated in previous years, were honored for upgrading their degrees to the Masters level.

Mr. Mabau Ilemabila, from the Democratic Republic of Congo, was the sole recipient of the new degree in Master of Arts in Religious Studies. Mr. Ilemabilia expressed his desire to start a school and to introduce a new kind of education for future leaders in his home country, which has suffered from political violence.

Mr. Sungmin Choe received the sole Master of Divinity degree. He expressed his strong desire to work for the reunification of North and South Korea, which was also the topic of his Divinity thesis.

Five graduates received the degree of Doctor of Ministry, including: Sunhee Moon Davies, Frank LaGrotteria, Karen Judd-Smith, David Dong Woo Kim, and Kolawole Ogunlola. Their dissertation projects covered valuable and relevant ministry programs, including small group ministry, interfaith ministry at the U.N., church education and conference ministries, that will make a contribution to everyone engaged in ministry.

UTS President Dr. Richard Panzer pointed out that “the turmoil and confusion in many parts of the world, compounded by unethical behavior and misuse of authority by those in power, can only be solved by leaders who possess integrity, who bring out the better instincts of their followers, and who have the ability to work together with people of different faiths for the common good.” He asserted that “developing such leaders was the vision of the founder of UTS, Rev. Sun Myung Moon, who often urged previous UTS graduates to take a stand for good, and that when they did so, people of conscience would be attracted to support and work with them.”

Mrs. Heather Thalheimer, director of Education for the Unification Church USA, gave a heartfelt commencement address on behalf of Rev. In Jin Moon, the national pastor of the church. Mrs. Thalheimer spoke movingly about how “changing the world starts with developing a living relationship with God.”

Mr. Erick Rodriguez received the award for student service. Rev. Margaret Obama received the Outreach award in recognition of her ecumenical efforts.

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