This weekend Sarah and I both graduated from Princeton Theological Seminary – and it feels great to be done. I have learned a lot in the past four years, both about theology, ministry and myself. I’ve had some great friendships and great experiences both at Columbia and Princeton seminaries. I was looking forward to the graduation ceremony – I enjoy these types of events. I enjoy the pomp and circumstance and the chance to celebrate with friends and family. While the ceremony had its moments, and some great music, I couldn’t even begin to tell you what President Torrance was trying to say in his esoteric address (you can read it here). Perhaps it will make more sense when you read it, but the overwhelming response from speaking with other graduates, parents and others, was confusion.
However, there was something else I found even more irritating. Princeton held an Awards Breakfast this year for the first time – a chance for student recipients of awards to get together and be honored for their achievement. The speaker at the breakfast was a pastor from Madison Avenue Presbyterian Church, and a PTS trustee, and he delivered an address on the legacy of Princeton Seminary. He informed us that Princeton knew the three things we (the graduates) appreciated most about our seminary educational experience:
- Relationships with friends
- Relationships with our Field Ed. supervisors
- Relationships with professors
While I can see the first one being true for many, I think it’s pretty interesting to hear (from a Field Ed. supervisor) that Princeton thinks that is the second most memorable thing from our seminary experience.
However, his talk went on being very focused on what an amazing institution Princeton Seminary is; at one point he said something to the effect of “Wherever God is at work in the world, and the gospel is having amazing success – I believe you will find a Princeton Seminary grad.” But the last thing he said was even more unbelievable. The pastor went on to say, “Someday you’ll find yourself sitting in a circle, and the inevitable question will come up: ‘So, where did you go to seminary?’ And you will tell them you’re a Princeton Seminary graduate, and their eyes will get a little wider and you’ll find that they’re listening to you with a little bit more respect and authority. Not because of you – but because of where you come from – because of the legacy of all those who have come before you – because of Princeton Seminary.”
I just sat there. Seriously? “Their eyes will get a little wider and they’ll listen to you more because of where you come from? Is he really being serious? Has he MET anyone else from another seminary before, or had much interaction with them?” When I talk about being from Princeton to students from other PC(USA) seminaries, Princeton is often referred to as “oh, THAT school.” We are seen by some as pretentious, annoying, stuck on ourselves – basically, people assume that we think we are amazing. And the fact that we have the largest endowment of any other school probably doesn’t help.
While I have enjoyed my time here (for the most part), I certainly don’t think PTS is the most amazing place in the world. And it’s the attitude and ideas that this pastor was projecting to all of us that are the very reasons people from other schools think of Princeton Seminary as a pretentious place.