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The 158th Commencement

Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary is excited to celebrate its 158th Commencement on May 15, 2015. This year's commencement speaker will be award-winning journalist and best-selling author, Alex Kotlowitz. Garrett-Evangelical will also be honoring two distiguished alums and over 75 graduates. Graduation events begin with Senior Chapel on May 14th at 7:00 p.m. in the Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Garrett-Evangelical. Commencement is on May 15th at 10:00 a.m. at First United Methodist Church with a reception to follow.


For those unable to be in Evanston, Illinois for Commencement, a live webcast will be available at The webcast will begin at 9:55 a.m. on Friday, May 15th.

Alex Kotlowitz
Award-Winning Journalist and Best-Selling Author

Alex Kotlowitz has devoted over twenty years of his life to the exploration of race and poverty issues in the United States.  His most recent documentary film, The Interrupters, offers an examination of pervasive urban violence, while also remaining “heroically life-affirming,” according to Time Magazine. The film debuted at the Sundance Film Festival, and was considered one of the best films of the year by The New Yorker, The Chicago Tribune, The LA Times, and Entertainment Weekly. The Interrupters received an Emmy Award in 2013 for Outstanding Informational Programming – Long Form, and the Independent Spirit Award in 2012 for Best Documentary.

Kotlowitz grew up in New York City and is a graduate of Wesleyan University. He has served as visiting professor at the University of Notre Dame, the University of Chicago, and as a Montgomery Fellow at Dartmouth College. He is currently a writer-in-residence at Northwestern University. He has given lectures on social work, education, social policy, urban affairs, and race at hundreds of colleges and universities across the nation, and has received seven honorary degrees.

Among Kotlowitz’s many titles, There Are No Children Here: The Story of Two Boys Growing Up in the Other America, was selected by The New York Public Library as one of the 150 Most Important Books of the 20th Century. It has sold 700,000 copies since its initial publication in 1991, and continues to be taught in high schools and colleges, selling over 15,000 copies each year. In 2004, Kotlowitz published Never a City So Real, about the heart, soul, and beauty of the city of Chicago.

Kotlowitz is a prolific journalist, having published articles in The Wall Street Journal, where he was a staff writer from 1984 to 1993; The New Yorker; The Washington Post; Rolling Stone; and others. His awards for writing include a George Foster Peabody Award, the Robert F. Kennedy Journalism Award, the George Polk Award, and The Chicago Tribune’s Heartland Prize for Nonfiction for his book The Other Side of the River, about the death of a black teenager in the mostly white town of St. Joseph, Michigan, across the river from the teen’s mostly black hometown of Benton Harbor.

Kotlowitz is married to Maria Woltjen, director of the Young Center for Immigrant Children’s Rights. They live outside Chicago with their children, Mattie and Lucas.

Each year, Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary chooses two alumni to be honored as Distinguished Alumni at our Commencement Ceremony. One alumnus is chosen from the most recent 25 years of graduates, and one alumnus is chosen from all those alumni who graduated over 25 years ago. For our 158th Commencement, Garrett-Evangelical is pleased to honor Rev. Franz S. Rigert and Rev. Samuel Phillips as our Distinguished Alumni.

Franz S. Rigert
Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary 1992

Franz S. Rigert grew up the son of a United Church of Christ pastor.  He earned a bachelor’s degree from the University of Wisconsin, Eau Claire in 1989 where he studied pre-law and religion.  After receiving a master of divinity degree from Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary in 1992, Rigert served as associate pastor at Kingswood United Methodist Church in Buffalo Grove, Illinois.  In 1995, he received a call to serve at Pilgrim United Church of Christ in Grafton, Wisconsin, where he served until he was called as conference minister for the Wisconsin Conference of the United Church of Christ in January 2015.

The pastoral, spiritual, and relational gifts that Rigert brings to ministry empower laity to take seriously their call from God to be Christian leaders.  He encourages members to take ownership and lead many ministries within the church.  Under his leadership, the Pilgrim congregation grew from 300 to more than 700 active members.  The members undertook 25 mission trips, participated in several Habitat for Humanity projects, and sponsored a refugee resettlement family.  The congregation also passed an “Open and Affirming” resolution stating that all people will be welcomed at Pilgrim.  Rigert was also instrumental in founding Common Ground, a group of 40,000 members dedicated to identifying pressing social problems and responding with creative solutions.

Rigert’s wife, Trinn, has taught early childhood special education for 19 years.  They have two sons and a daughter:  Mitchell, a college student in Colorado; Jordan, a high school senior; and Marianna, a high school freshman.



Samuel Phillips
Garrett Biblical Institute 1958

Samuel Phillips graduated from Garrett Biblical Institute and was ordained an elder in the Northwest Conference in 1958.  Phillips has served as a pastor to numerous congregations including LaPorte Methodist Church (1958-60); Lakeville Methodist Church (1960-65); Monticello Methodist Church (1965-68); and senior pastor to Methodist Temple United Methodist Church (1974-80).  Phillips was among the first in 1960s and 1970s Indiana to publically endorse and support civil rights, gay rights, women’s rights, and the peace movement.

He served as a district superintendent and director of missions and church extension for the South Indiana Conference.  He has served as a board member on the United Methodist Committee on Relief, the General Board of Global Ministries, and the United Methodist Children’s Home, among many others.  Phillips embodies the work of the church in his various mission and outreach efforts, which have taken place both home and abroad.  He organized a “Mission Motorcycle” tour group for motorcycle enthusiasts to tour regional United Methodist mission sites.  Internationally, Phillips has spent decades leading outreach and relief work in numerous countries including Bolivia, Zimbabwe, Belize, the Soviet Union, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Congo, Philippines, Nepal, Honduras, Vietnam, and Bosnia.

Although Phillips retired from professional ministry in 1993, he never stopped working for the church.  After moving to San Francisco following the passing of his beloved wife Marie in 1998, Phillips joined Glide Memorial United Methodist Church and became very active in local causes.  In 1999, he mastered accounting and became the Chief Financial Officer at his son’s law firm as well as spearheading the firm’s zeal for public service, which includes funding three minority scholarships at universities and funding for veteran’s organizations.  He has never forgotten the reason behind his call to ministry, which is shaped by God’s justice and compassion. 

Wednesday, May 13th

12:00 p.m. - 1:15 p.m.
Graduate's Luncheon
Northwestern University | Alice Millar Chapel, 1870 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL

1:30 p.m. - 2:15 p.m.     
Cap, gown, and hood pickup
First United Methodist Church, Dining Room
516 Church St, Evanston, IL

2:30 p.m. - 3:30 p.m.     
Commencement rehearsal and class pictures
First United Methodist Church, Sanctuary
516 Church Street, Evanston, IL

4:00 p.m.
Senior Chapel rehearsal (only participants need to come)

Thursday, May 14th

8:30 a.m. - 4:30 p.m.     
Cap, gown, hood pick-up in the Registrar's Office

5:15 p.m.                        
Trustee and 50th Alum Reunion Dinner
Loder Hall of Garrett-Evangelical
2121 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL

7:00 p.m.
Senior Chapel for the Garrett-Evangelical community, graduates, and their families
Chapel of the Unnamed Faithful at Garrett-Evangelical
2121 Sheridan Rd, Evanston, IL

Friday, May 15th

8:30 a.m. - 9:30 a.m.     
Graduates assemble for Commencement line-up with caps, gowns,
and hoods in the Dining Room of First United Methodist Church

10:00 a.m.                      
158th Commencement
First United Methodist Church of Evanston
516 Church Street, Evanston, IL

Reception in the Great Hall immediately following Commencement

12:00 p.m. - 1:00 p.m.    
Return cap, gowns, and hoods to Dining Room of First United Methodist Church

Renovating the Library Purple Room

The Class of 2015 has chosen to renovate the Library Purple Room as their class gift to Garrett-Evangelical Theological Seminary. The total cost needed for a full renovation is $10,000 and will provide patching and painting, new furniture, white boards, WiFi, and video conferencing capability to create a beautiful, digitally-equipped study space that can be reserved by individuals and groups.


Members of the Class of 2015

While the $10,000 goal may seem daunting, if everyone in the graduating class donates $125, the class will achieve their goal. This can be done in a variety of ways:

  • A one-time gift of $125
  • A monthly gift of $11 per month for one year (a little more than a monthly Netflix subscription)
  • Transfer money from your student account
  • Donate part or all of your housing deposit

Whatever way you would like to make your class gift, we are here to help. Download the 2015 Class Gift Intention Form to get started!

Friends and Family

For friends and family members who wish to help the the Class of 2015 with their goal, you can make a gift at and in the "Restricted to" field type, "Class of 2015 Gift."


For campus map and directions to Garrett-Evangelical, click here.

For directions to First United Methodist Church, click here.


Parking for Senior Chapel on Thursday, May 14, 7:00 p.m. – 9:00 p.m.

  • We have arranged for a moratorium on parking tickets after 4:30 p.m., which means people will be able to use the Northwestern University lot to our south free of charge.

Parking for Commencement on Friday, May 15, 10:00 a.m.

  • Across the street from First Church Evanston is the Church St. Self Park, a multi-level garage at the intersection of Church St. and Chicago Ave. Parking is free for the first hour.  For a city map and pricing information for public garages, go to Lots & Garages on the City of Evanston's website.