Distinguished Alumni/ae Award Previous Recipients
Vanderbilt Divinity School and the Graduate Department of Religion recognize distinguished alumni/ae whose accomplishments and contributions have had a broad impact and positive effect in various forms of ministry and scholarship.
The Divinity School award is given to someone who has demonstrated excellence and distinction in justice making through their work in congregational ministry, religious institutions, ecumenical organizations, community –based organizations, government, or other social institutions.
The Graduate Department of Religion award is given to someone whose scholarship, teaching, or research has advanced the understanding of religion and its formative impact in the world.
2014 - Bishop Joseph A. Johnson Jr., BDiv’54, PhD’58
Bishop Johnson received the award posthumously. His granddaughter, Rev. Cynthia Johnson-Oliver, accepted the award on his behalf.
In 1953, Bishop Johnson became the first African American to be admitted to Vanderbilt University. He went on to become the first African American to graduate, receiving the Bachelor of Divinity degree in 1954, and the first to receive the Doctor of Philosophy degree in 1958. In 1971, he was elected to the Vanderbilt Board of Trust and two years later preached at the Divinity School's Cole Lectures
Learn more about Bishop Johnson and the Bishop Joseph Johnson History Project.
2014 - Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree, PhD’63
Rev. Dr. Thomas W. Ogletree is a United Methodist clergyman and a distinguished scholar of theological ethics and Christian social ethics. His lived commitment to social justice stretches back more than five decades to his involvement in the Civil Rights Movement. Ogletree's dedication to civil rights includes his participation as a Vanderbilt student in the Nashville sit-in movement to integrate lunch counters. He was a member of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee while working with James Lawson, John Lewis, Diane Nash and other social justice activists. Later, as a Vanderbilt professor, he supported school integration through his advisory board role with Concerned Citizens for Improved Schools. Ogletree taught as a theologian at Yale Divinity School before his retirement in 2009, and before that at Drew Theological Seminary, Vanderbilt Divinity School and Chicago Theological Seminary. He served terms as dean at both Yale and Drew and is a past president of the Society of Christian Ethics.
Learn more about Rev. Dr. Tom Ogletree.
2014 - Rev. Becca Stevens, MDiv’90
Rev. Becca Stevens is one of the premiere preachers and speakers in the United States proclaiming love as the most powerful force for social change. She is an Episcopal priest and founder of Magdalene, residential communities of women who have survived prostitution, trafficking and addiction. She founded Thistle Farms in 2001 which currently employs nearly 50 residents and graduates, and houses a natural body care line, a paper and sewing studio and the Thistle Stop Café. She demonstrates that love is good business and raises millions of dollars annually for the organizations she runs.
Learn more about Rev. Becca Stevens and Thistle Farms.
2003 - Rev. Charlotte Hotopp Zachary, Oberlin BD'57
The Rev. Charlotte Hotopp Zachary, who exemplified the ideals of the "School of Prophets," received the award posthumously in 2003.
2000 - Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor, Oberlin BD'40
The Rev. Dr. Gardner C. Taylor was chosen for his exceptionally courageous ministry as a preacher, teacher, pastor, and prophet to the church and society. Learn more about Dr. Taylor.
1998 - Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock, Ph.D'64
The Rev. Dr. Fred Craddock revolutionized the art of preaching. Learn more about Dr. Craddock.
1996 - Rev. Dr. James Lawson, D'60
An activist and university professor, Rev. Dr. James Lawson was a leading theoretician and tactician of nonviolence within the American Civil Rights Movement. Learn more about Dr. Lawson.