A Family Affair: Mom and Son Graduate Together
July 22, 2022
It is not often that we have a mom and her son graduate at the same time. We do believe this might even be a first in the seminary’s 169-year history. At the 165th Commencement, held on Friday, May 13, 2022, Jacquelyn D. Webb received her master of divinity and her son, Dr. Taurean J. Webb, received his doctor of philosophy. To mark this special moment, we reached out to the Webbs to learn more about their seminary experience.
When you think of your son what comes to mind? What would you want someone to know about him?
When I think of Taurean, I am reminded of how much time and energy he has invested in understanding his own African American and Cherokee heritage. His educational excellence, servant leadership, honesty, and dedication to service for others are characteristics that have shaped his study. He is a self-driven man who is very focused on goals that will foster a more informed society. I would want people to know that he is committed to serving and making a positive difference in the lives of others. He is committed to courageous leadership in affecting change that will not only improve the church but also the global community.
When you think of your mom, what comes to mind? What would you want someone to know about her?
My mother is one of the kindest and most selfless people I’ve met. And, of course, she (and my dad) has been supportive of my pursuits in more ways than I can count. But my mother is also one of the most consequential leaders I’ve ever known. The school district from which I graduated high school is an amalgamation of about fourteen different municipalities, roughly half predominantly Black, half predominantly White, all court-ordered together in the late 80s by a desegregation suit. At the time, my mom was the second-ranking official of the district and the top-ranking person of color. In no insignificant way, how she postured herself in such a critical moment of racial animus could have, rightly or wrongly, come to be the barometer for “whether or not Black people could lead.” This is how race functions in the United States. Fortunately for us, her skills, integrity, and community of accountability kept her during such trying times.
Tell us about your son and his time at Garrett-Evangelical? What inspired you most about his seminary journey?
At a very young age, Taurean realized that there was a special “call” on his life. This was affirmed by his parents, grandparents, and many in the strong Baptist, faith community in which he was raised. His ability to recognize “his call” early in life and to chart his journey with God’s direction, family, the faith community mentors, and many in the Morehouse College, Columbia University, Northwestern University and most profoundly the Garrett-Evangelical community has been most inspirational for me. A seminary journey was foreseen much earlier in his life and it was at Garrett-Evangelical that it became a reality. It was the prophetic voice of Dr. Larry Murphy, the guidance of Dr. Stephen Ray and the larger Garrett-Evangelical community that allowed a mother to experience a blessed, unique journey alongside her son.
Tell us about your mom and her time at Garrett-Evangelical? What inspired you most about her seminary journey?
It takes a special type of bravery to begin a separate (in some ways, very different) career journey, at any life stage, but certainly toward the end of one’s working years. My mother’s decision to pursue ministry full-time, after an immensely successful career as a public school educator, always inspired me. But I was, perhaps, most moved by her focused determination. When she began at Garrett-Evangelical, she was far removed from graduate studies, and theological writing was a completely unfamiliar genre. But through her setbacks—and there were some—she persevered.
What has it been like for you to attend seminary at the same time as your son?
It took both of us reflecting and praying as well as having conversations around the dynamics of sharing the same academic space. We were serious about establishing ground rules that honored our independence, academic, and social spaces. It was a rare opportunity to learn, serve, and share together. Some special moments were when we read the same book or knew the same author and then shared reflections that became real theological discussions. Even more amazing was to share a new text, which was unfamiliar to one of us. Some of the most meaningful moments were serving two years together on the pastoral staff at Second Baptist Church in Evanston, under the leadership of Reverend Mark A. Dennis and Reverend Dr. Karen Mosby.
What has it been like for you to attend seminary at the same time as your mom?
She had finished most of her coursework and had moved back to Pittsburgh before I began my PhD journey at Garrett-Evangelical. But one of the most meaningful moments for me came when she first planted the seed of us potentially graduating together. For that to work, however, our paces had to align. We knew this would be an important milestone for the family, so she decided to slow her pace and complete her final class a year after she could have, to give me time to “catch up.” So, as she extended her timeline, I hastened mine (attempting to write my PhD dissertation as efficiently as possible)—so that we could “walk” together.
Jacquelyn, how has your time at Garrett-Evangelical shaped and prepared you for your ministry and calling?
Thirty-seven years after earning a PhD from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro and even more study to receive credentials for school leadership and the superintendency, I knew after accepting my call to ministry that more study would be required to be prepared for ministry. On a brief visit to Northwestern University, my son encouraged me to tour Garrett-Evangelical. It was then I realized that this was “my place” for preparation for ministry. It felt right for me, and with the prayers and blessings of my spouse, Percy Webb, our family, and our community in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, the journey began. Garrett-Evangelical became my safe haven to embark on this faith journey. Garrett-Evangelical was a community that embraced those with a non-traditional background and cultivated my uniqueness which allowed me to thrive. Little did I know that as my seminary journey was ending, I would be called to lead a congregation, as interim pastor, virtually, through the pandemic season.
Taurean, how has your time at Garrett-Evangelical shaped and prepared you for your ministry and calling?
One of the greatest joys (and assets) of my training has been the faculty and staff helping me cultivate my own theological imagination. Spending as much time as I do outside of “theological spaces,” I find it painfully clear that others hunger for tools to creatively imagine new world possibilities, and some of those tools can only withstand the world’s most cynical scrutiny when they’re foregrounded in the mystery of the sacred. This tool has profoundly shaped how I show up in the world.
What’s next for you, Jacquelyn?
I plan to continue to serve in ministry as called to do so. My favorite saying is: “The world is my pulpit. I serve daily, wherever I am.” My desire is to continue to be directed and guided by God’s hand in service.
Taurean, what’s next for you?
The most important next step for me, personally, is continuing my own fatherhood journey—with my wife and I expecting our third child later this year. Vocationally, I am set to begin a position at Indiana University Bloomington in the fall, teaching and directing a research center in the university’s School of Global and International Studies.
What are your hopes and wishes for your son post-seminary and his ministry?
My greatest wish and prayer for Taurean is for him to truly embrace his calling and use his gifts and talents in becoming the best leader possible, serving as God directs him.
What are your hopes and wishes for your mom post-seminary and her ministry?
My sincerest hope is that my mother reaps the harvest of every good thing—every good seed—that she has planted by faith, and study, in this place.