Instituted in 1981 as a means of honoring individuals whose lives reflect the mission of the Seminary in the world, the Union Medal is the Seminary’s highest award. Past medalists include Archbishop Desmond Tutu, Vice President Al Gore, and Judith and Bill Moyers.
2017 Union Medal Citations
Thích Nhất Hạnh, you have been a human rights activist, prolific author, global spiritual leader, founder of monasteries and sanghas — but most importantly, you have been a lodestar for people of all faiths seeking inner transformation, and the strength and courage to repair the world.
During the height of the Vietnam War — known to your compatriots as “the American War” — you envisioned and created a praxis of Engaged Buddhism, propelling contemplative monastics from their pagodas into new missions as social justice workers, first in the war-torn Vietnamese countryside, and later throughout the world. You taught Vietnamese youth to tackle the exigencies of poverty, hunger, bombed-out villages, trauma and death, and brought your message of nonviolence, compassion and peace to the American people, when they most needed to hear it. You convinced the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. to come out against the War, and he personally nominated you for the Nobel Peace Prize.
You have been foundational to Buddhism in the West, awakening persons of all faiths to practice Mindfulness, and gently teaching us how to do it. Through your Dharma talks, walking and sitting meditations, your way of eating, smiling, and interacting with the Sangha, you have enlightened all of us.
Your compassion, your nonviolent activism, and your Mindfulness embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For living your life deeply as a model for all of us, for conveying your insights, with spectacular simplicity and clarity, on how to address suffering and achieve peace — we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.
Charles Melvin Sherrod, you have been a civil rights activist, veteran organizer of sit-ins, jail-ins, demonstrations, marches, and Freedom Rides; co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC); co-founder of the Albany movement; director of SNCC’s Southwest Georgia voter registration project; co-founder in faithful partnership with your wife, Shirley, of a Black-owned cooperative farm in Lee County, Georgia — but most importantly, you have been a civil rights beacon shining forth unto future generations.
You went to southwest Georgia and never left. After a brief sojourn at Union to receive the STM in 1966, you returned to the Southwest Georgia Project for Community Education, where you served as director from 1961 to 1987. Co-founder of New Communities, Inc., your cooperative farming project, you helped manage one of the largest tracts of Black-owned land in the U.S. for more than 15 years, offering the opportunity to many to farm securely and affordably for the first time. You served on the Albany City Commission from 1976 to 1990, and in 1996 ran for Georgia State Senate. Most recently you have served as a chaplain at the Georgia State Prison in Homerville, Georgia. You rouse and inspire the civil rights activist in all of us.
Your life and your ministry of non-violent activism embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For your exemplary courage, will power, tenacity and moral rectitude over more than six decades of social-justice activism; for imparting a sense of mission and destiny to those who followed you; for your dignity and grace and leadership — we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.
Shirley Miller Sherrod, you have been a civil rights activist; agriculturalist extraordinaire; co-founder in faithful partnership with your husband, Charles, of a Black-owned cooperative farm in Lee County, Georgia; Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia with the U.S. Department of Agriculture — but most importantly, you have been a zealous and tireless advocate on behalf of sharecroppers, smallholders, and other poor farmers — indeed on behalf of all and any who ask for your help, whether Black, white or Latinx.
In southwest Georgia, you were among the first Black students to desegregate your local high school. Co-founder of New Communities, Inc., your cooperative farming project, you helped manage one of the largest tracts of Black-owned land in the U.S. for more than 15 years, offering the opportunity to many to farm securely and affordably for the first time. Appointed Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia by the U.S. Department of Agriculture, you were subsequently slandered by Andrew Breitbart in a malicious campaign of fake news, which prompted the White House to unjustly ask for your resignation. You calmly went on CNN, vindicated yourself with dignity and quiet resolution, and won the day. You rouse and inspire the social activist in all of us, and shine forth as a lodestar of dauntlessness.
Your life, your activism, and your righteous fortitude in the face of wrongful political slander embody the highest ideals and aspirations of Union Theological Seminary in the City of New York. For your behind-the-scenes, impassioned advocacy on behalf of poor farmers; your superlative bravura on the national stage; your strength, resolution and moral rectitude over many decades of social-justice activism; for your dignity and grace and leadership — we award you Union’s highest honor, the Union Medal.
Past Union Medal Recipients
Thich Nhat Hanh ’63
Internationally celebrated Zen Buddhist monk, dharma teacher, scholar, author, and peace activist
Rev. Charles M. Sherrod ’66
Civil rights activist and Freedom Ride organizer; co-founder of the Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) and the Albany Movement
Shirley M. Sherrod
Agricultural advocate; Director of Rural Development for the State of Georgia (USDA)
Rev. Dr. Katie Geneva Cannon ’83
First African American woman ordained in the United Presbyterian Church (USA), Annie Scales Professor of Christian Ethics at Union Presbyterian Seminary
Rev. Dr. C.T. Vivian
Civil rights activist and spiritual leader; 2013 Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipient; Board Member, BASIC Diversity, Inc.
Human rights activist, public policy advocate, and grassroots organizer; co-founder of Southerners On New Ground (SONG) and the National Black Justice Coalition (NBJC)
Hon. Al Gore
Advocate and activist for solving the climate crisis; former Vice President of the United States
Thoraya Ahmed Obaid
Advocate for women and youth health and empowerment; former Executive Direction of the United Nations Population Fund
Daniel E. Pellegrom ’69
Advocate and activist for reproductive health and President of Pathfinder International
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health
Paul Farmer, M.D.
Global health activist and co-founder of Partners in Health
Archbishop Desmond Tutu
Church leader and human rights advocate
Award-winning television journalist; prophetic voice for democratic ideals, separation of church and state, and freedom of the press
Judith Davidson Moyers
Educator, writer, editor, television producer and advocate for children
Anne Hale Johnson ’56
Philanthropist and social activist
Rev. Dr. William Sloane Coffin ’52
Pastor, preacher, activist and conscience of the nation
Bishop Vashti Murphy McKenzie
Pastor, author, journalist and role model for women in ministry
Rev. Dr. Ko Chun-Beng (C. M. Kao)
Church leader and human rights advocate in Taiwan
Rev. Dr. George William Webber ’48, ’64
Theologian and mentor for clergy in urban ministry through the East Harlem Protestant Parish
Dr. Marian Wright Edelman
Social activist and founder of the Children’s Defense Fund
Dr. Helmut Reihlen
Business leader; Evangelical Synod president; leader in effort to preserve the memory of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Bishop K. H. Ting ’48
Theologian and Christian community leader in the People’s Republic of China
Leader in the struggle for the democratization and re-unification of Korea
Katherine Womeldorf Paterson ’62
Distinguished author of children’s books and missionary
Maestro Christoph Von Dohnányi
Music Director of The Cleveland Orchestra and nephew of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Maestro Kurt Masur
Music Director of the New York Philharmonic and leader in the German re-unification effort
Rev. Dr. Donald W. Shriver, Jr.
Ethicist, author, teacher, and thirteenth president of Union Seminary
Dr. Peggy A. L. Shriver
Author and church leader
Rev. Dr. Allan Boesak
South African anti-apartheid activist, theologian and author
Dr. Richard Freiherr von Weizsäcker
President of the Federal Republic of Germany
Rosalind E. Havemeyer
Benefactor and first female Chair of the Board, Union Seminary 1969-75
Vice President for Religious and Cultural Affairs, CBS
Rev. Dr. John Knox, Sr.
Baldwin Professor Emeritus of Sacred Literature
Dr. Darlene Nicgorski
Sanctuary Movement activist
Rev. John M. Fife
Sanctuary Movement activist
George Macleod (the Very Reverend the Lord Macleod of Fuinary)
Founder of Scotland’s Iona Community
Rev. Dr. John C. Bennett ’27
Christian social ethicist and eleventh president of Union Seminary
Anne McGrew Bennett
Peace activist and feminist theologian
Rev. Gardner Taylor
Leading American preacher
Dr. Eberhard Bethge
Colleague and biographer of Dietrich Bonhoeffer
Rev. Rachel Henderlite
Educator; first woman ordained by the Presbyterian Church, USA
Dr. Okgill Kim
President Emerita of Ewha Women’s University, Korea
Hon. George Kennan
Diplomat and scholar
Hon. Andrew Young
Political Leader and diplomat