On Saturday, May 19, Gordon held its 120th commencement ceremony to send out the class of 2012. It was also Mark Sargent’s last service as Gordon’s provost and consequently, his last time to present distinguished awards to a senior and a junior faculty member. Here is the text of his introduction to this year’s two recipients, Ivy George, professor of sociology (left), and Rini Cobbey, associate professor of communication arts (right):

The Senior and Junior Distinguished Faculty Awards are given annually to two faculty members in recognition of their teaching, scholarship and service to the institution.  The Senior Award is always presented to a full professor; the Junior Award is presented to an Assistant or Associate Professor.

The awards are based on nominations submitted by graduating seniors and by faculty, and the selection of the final recipients is made from among the group of top nominees by a panel of previous award winners.

This year, the awards will go to the two individuals who did indeed receive the highest number of total nominations in their category.  The faculty on the committee had the privilege of making the choices; it is my privilege, as always, to be able to present them.  And, this year, I am going to do so by traveling around the world—or at least mentioning ethnic restaurants on the North Shore.Just over a decade ago, on a rainy Saturday, I went to Westminster Abbey in London, primarily to visit N.T. Wright, the Dean of the Abbey and one of the world’s foremost New Testament scholars.  About four years later, during a stop in San José, Costa Rica, I had coffee with one of the leading missionaries and seminary scholars in Costa Rica and Cuba.  Two years ago, while in the province of Tamil Nadu, I met the regional bishop of the Church of South India, where we discussed education and social changes at Indian universities.

All three visits were linked, in some way, to the recipient of our Senior Faculty Award.   Not long after my arrival at Gordon, she was the one who arranged for me to meet Dr. Wright at a dinner in Boston, and it was her friendship with the Costa Rican scholar that opened the door for me to discover more about Christian missionary and social work in Latin America.  And I remember eating lunch at an Indian restaurant in Beverly when she gave me a clear overview of the various branches of the church in India, her place of birth.  I think I still owe her another lunch for that.

What I do owe her—and what so many students owe her—is gratitude for the ways that she has continually stretched our intellectual horizons.  As a sociologist and scholar on issues of women and world development, she has continually challenged us to rethink some of our assumptions, reconsidering questions from the perspectives of the marginalized or the unknown.  With a wide network of friends in many parts of the scholarly and ecclesiastical world, she brings to teaching a strong passion to introduce new voices to our usual conversations, and her wide scope of reading usually leads to a steady stream of recommendations of timely articles and some of the most beautiful books.  Over the last two decades, that passion to explore new questions and dimensions of life has been evident in her work at Gordon in many ways, such as leading study programs in South Africa, shaping some of our Convocation programs, and serving as chair of her department.

Provosts have lots of conversations with faculty about students, and you can imagine some of them.  So, graduates, let me tell you that one of my most vibrant memories of Gordon will be enthusiasm and joy with which this professor has described her excitement about you—about the ways that your discoveries, your growth, your encounters with texts, dilemmas and ideas are invigorating and hopeful.   And it is largely for that vision about the imaginative and restorative work that you can do in our world that I am pleased to present the Senior Distinguished Faculty Award to Professor Ivy George.

Let me return briefly to India for our second recipient as well.   I remember a cab ride through the hectic streets of Mumbai, or the former Bombay, squeezing our way through streets bordered with flower stands, banyan trees, and Bollywood movie posters.  Just last weekend, I took a cab ride with my family down the Mall in Washington, DC, and by the West Wing of the White House.

I’ve yet to share a cab with the recipient of this year’s Junior Distinguished Faculty Award, but I have been through the West Wing with her—well, through her astute interpretation of the Aaron Sorkin television series.  I’ve also been to Bollywood with her—she has been one of my guides through Indian cinema, having done extensive research on Bollywood films for her doctorate.   As a teacher of film and media for a decade at Gordon, she has helped students and colleagues analyze American popular culture and discover international filmmakers.  Her scholarship includes writing or presentations on topics as diverse as Jim Carrey, U2 fans, and Iranian cinema.

That intellectual diversity is matched by a willingness to shoulder a diversity of responsibilities.  Widely coveted as a committee member, she does not shy away from engaging the most complex tasks or stepping in when the College has a need. I am not sure I have known a faculty member who has carried so many institutional duties while completing a doctoral dissertation.  Her service includes membership on the Core Committee, which she now chairs, leading the Department of Communication Arts, and advising Gordon’s club for Third Culture Kids. In my work with her, I have found her to ask some of the most penetrating questions and to scrutinize ideas and proposals with a sharp eye, but always with the sense that her capacity to critique is matched by her willingness to share the responsibility to define the next step forward.

When I give her the award I will throw in a little extra for cab fare—or movie tickets, or for a meal at one of the many ethnic restaurants she enjoys near her home on the North Shore, where, in her own words, she can open her windows, hear six languages, and smell the ocean—all at once.  I will be living on the shores of a different ocean soon, but I sure hope that Rini Cobbey, associate professor of Communication Arts and the recipient of this year’s Junior Distinguished Faculty Award, keeps those movie tips coming my way.                                                                       —Mark Sargent, Provost, 2012