Graduate Remarks

Beena Poulose Kallely, Ph.D.

Theology and Ethics

Beena Poulose Kallely, a presidential scholar, received her Ph.D. in Theology and Ethics from the GTU. She received a Licentiate in Sacred Theology (S.T.L.) with a Master’s in Theology (Th.M.) from the Jesuit School of Theology of Santa Clara University in 2016. A native of Kerala, India, she is a member of a Catholic women religious congregation, Medical Sisters of St. Joseph (M.S.J.), whose charism is the integral liberation of people through the ministry of chaplaincy. Her favorite research subjects include feminist theology, restorative justice, human dignity, and human rights of women. 

Be Witnesses to Divine Compassion

Congratulations, Graduates 2021.  I am grateful to the leadership team at the GTU, President Kim, Dean Elizabeth Peña, Associate Deans Arthur Holder, and Wendy Arce for inviting me to offer a few reflections on this joyful occasion.

My fellow graduates, we have made our families proud! What an amazing accomplishment to have achieved this personal milestone amid the challenges of the past year! This extraordinary year has marked us. It has intersected with our years of study to inform and form us in unique ways as theologians, educators, and ministers. This accomplishment is a kind of new birth, and we are born anew with new convictions! But not for ourselves alone.

The world we thought we knew is now a liminal space. Pandemic is not done with us, and there will be no so-called “normal” to return to. ‘What will be’ is not clear. The woes of the world weigh heavily on every person here, and these have taught us how tightly interconnected we are to one another – from the global south devastated by catastrophic case counts to American communities torn by hatred, injustice, and violence. Human isolation, we’ve learned, carries a great cost.  As GTU graduates, we come to this context schooled to ask questions and to listen for the voice of God.

 Like Ezekiel, we come as witnesses to a valley paved with dead, dry bones as far as the eye can see. God asks, “Can these bones live?” and, to our surprise, commands us, “Prophesy to these bones, prophesy to the breath.”

As we contemplate a fitting response, what do we do?

We remember . . . we celebrate . . . we believe.

We remember! We remember our roots. We are grounded in God’s love as we remember innumerable graces of the divine working in us and through us. We’ve seen the divine in the selfless love and commitment of so many who’ve stood with us in our academic journey.

We celebrate!  We celebrate our accomplishments and our growth. We celebrate the GTU teachers and staff who empowered us and classmates who stretched us. We celebrate all who kept us safe and comfortable at great personal risk and sacrifice as we did our work. We celebrate people and technology that enabled us to share resources across the globe from our homes.

We believe!  We believe that God’s Spirit is not done with us. We set out in faith together, like Abraham and Sarah, believing that we can make our way by going into a hopeful future.

God says, “Prophesy!” What are we to say in our day and to whom do we say it? Words take shape in silence as we honor our story and our own questions. How has God been at work in my evolving identity as a theologian? In what moves me and calls to me? What arises when I own my voice through self-exploration and become aware of oppressive systems in society?  What is my most faithful response to the person I am and the situation in which I find myself?

To prophesy, we must widen our view.  Joanna Macy says: “When you work on behalf of something greater than yourself, you find it working through you with a power greater than your own.” “Something greater” is found when we ask crucial theological questions. What is God’s vision of this situation? What would God do? How do I represent God to those entrusted to my care?

From my own academic work, I’ve come to understand that the lens of human dignity offers much-needed perspective. Across religious traditions, the dignity of all persons arises from the excellence of creation, its purpose, and destiny as fashioned by the Creator.  As theologians, we are called to be generative within our own fields of expertise in our own traditions, but then to venture into new horizons and contribute to the flourishing of all humanity. We are to hold both the mystery of God and the reality of human suffering everywhere, then use our moral imagination to envision an alternative reality.  Practically, our task is to see, judge, and act collaboratively to bridge the gap between what is happening and what should be happening in light of theological and ethical principles.


I believe the “something greater” we all seek is found in service to the vulnerable and marginalized who illuminate God’s presence in the world. If we listen deeply to their stories, a community of possibilities awakens.  This is how graves are opened, and new life brought up from them.

 In the book of Isaiah, God says, “See, I am doing something new. Do you not perceive it?”

 Yes, we remember, we celebrate, we believe. And when we finally perceive what God is about, we loveThe fundamental question for every human being is a theological one: Who is God? If God is love, and I am made in God’s image, the purpose of my life is to become love in a world longing for love in action. Becoming love has practical implications.

Cornel West says, “justice is what love looks like in public.” I will add – justice is what love looks like in public, in private, and in relation to the entire cosmos. There is no love without justice, even in the familial relationships we often take for granted. Love demands that we also practice intergenerational justice to hand over sustainable earth to future generations.

In an emerging post-Covid world, may we, graduates of the GTU, begin to perceive the new thing God is doing. To paraphrase Mahatma Gandhi, may we become the change God wants to see, the human face of divine compassion!


Rev. CJ Dunford

Limitless Love

I would like to thank President Uriah Kim and the administration at the Graduate Theological Union for this wonderful opportunity to share as we celebrate all the hard work of this year’s graduates and the crucial contributions of the kind and generous teachers and staff at the GTU and affiliated schools.

To commemorate this momentous occasion for all of us, I made a painting which is inspired by several different components of my journey at the GTU. Firstly, the religious imagery is inspired by Sakyamuni Buddha’s sermon given in the Smaller Sutra on Amida Buddha. In this sutra, the historical Buddha describes the nature of Sukhavati, the Pure Land of Bliss created by Amitabha (Amida) Buddha as a realm of perfection for all beings to attain enlightenment. Amida Buddha’s wisdom and compassion are said to be immeasurable and they extend liberation to all beings, regardless of class, gender, wealth, social status, and all other valuations that human society places upon people. In the Smaller Sutra, the land of Sukhavati is filled with jeweled trees and clear ponds. Amida Buddha is there teaching residents, and birds fly through the sky singing praises of Buddha and Supreme Awakening. In this sutra, too, the Buddha describes lotuses in the crystal ponds, each of them beautiful, unique, and giving off their own light. Every time I read this sutra, I feel comforted by the uniqueness of each life as a lotus, and all that each of us can offer to the diverse rainbow of humanity, and at the same time, I also feel so much gratitude for the Buddhadharma and my teachers, mentors, and comrades that continue to provide guidance throughout my life.
The colors and queer theme of my painting come directly from Daniel Quasar’s redesign of the LGBTQ+ pride flag. I include the standard rainbow flair emanating from Amida Buddha in the center with lotuses blooming in the crystal pond in the foreground, each representing BIPOC and Trans pride colors in the Quasar flag. During my time at GTU, I was fortunate to take classes at the Pacific School of Religion and attend a few events hosted by GTU and affiliate schools emphasizing social justice and creative hermeneutics that uplift the voices of the marginalized. This means of pursuing justice through reading my own life and experiences into sacred texts has been a crucial lesson for me as a transgender, queer Buddhist minister and practitioner. My education at the GTU has fundamentally transformed how I view religion in general and Buddhist teachings specifically. This painting I entitled “Limitless Love” is my humble attempt to create a visual representation of the inspiration and growth that my teachers, mentors, and comrades at the GTU and IBS have nourished within me during my time here.

I would like to close with a poem of gratitude written by Shinran Shōnin, the founder of the Buddhist tradition in which I am ordained, Jōdo Shinshū:

Such is the benevolence of Amida’s great compassion,
That we must strive to return it, even to the breaking of our bodies;
Such is the benevolence of the masters and true teachers,
That we must endeavor to repay it, even to our bones becoming dust.