The Harvard Divinity School Alumni/Alumnae Council named the five recipients of its Peter J. Gomes Distinguished Alumni Honors earlier this month — a distinction named in honor of Gomes, who taught at Harvard for four decades and served as Pusey Minister of Memorial Church.
The honorees included Marcus A. “Kvnfvske” Briggs-Cloud, the co-founder of an Indigenous “ecovillage” community of Maskoke people; Katherine A. Collins, the head of sustainable investing at Putnam Investments; Tori M. McClure, an explorer and president of Spalding University; Kareema O. Scott, an urban gardener and teacher; and Rosalyn LaPier, an Indigenous environmental activist and associate professor at the University of Montana.
The Gomes Honors — first awarded in 2013 — is an annual recognition given to HDS alumni and one non-alumni affiliate who embody the mission and values of HDS and of Gomes through their life, work, and service. Each year, the AAC chooses a theme for the honors and asks alumni to nominate peers before the AAC selects a cohort of recipients.
This year, the award focused on “Nature” as its theme. Michelle B. Goldhaber, the chairperson of the AAC, said her decision to focus on nature was partially a response to widespread “angst and hopelessness and despair” about the climate crisis.
“We hear so much about the atrocities that are happening, the brokenness of the planet, all the disasters that are happening,” Goldhaber said. “I really wanted to lift up the positive side of nature — our relationship with nature — and I wanted to cast a really broad net so that people could approach it from all different angles.”
Collins, who came to HDS to learn more about sustainability, said she was especially “unusually surprised and touched” to be awarded the Gomes Honor.
“I'm delighted when we're recognized within the financial realm, but that's like sort of being recognized within my own operating community,” Collins said in an interview. “What is a lot more remarkable is for someone doing financial work to be recognized in this way.”
In an interview, McClure similarly drew a distinction between the Gomes Honor and other awards she has received in the past, noting Gomes’ personal mentorship to her.
“Often folks will make up some award just to have me come give a speech. The Gomes Honors — it's a different thing,” McClure said. “Peter Gomes was just an amazing character, a brilliant human being, and I would consider him a mentor in that he was there when I decided to ski to the South Pole.”
Arleigh Prelow, a filmmaker and the vice chairperson of the AAC, described Gomes as a mentor who helped her “uncover [her] own unique voice” through his course on public preaching. She said the AAC looks to honor affiliates with a similar character as Gomes who “all are adding something very vital to our world.”
“I think we're honoring — and in my eye, just from my experience with him — those people who are boldly doing in the world both things that are truly coming from their convictions and their sense of what is divinely ordered for them to do and say in the world,” Prelow said.
—Staff writer Kenneth Gu can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter at @KennyGu8.