Every annual senior graduation, Westminster invites an esteemed alumnus to deliver a speech to those graduating and their guests. At this year’s upcoming graduation, the distinguished Reverend Shelvis Smith-Mather will deliver a speech to students, faculty, and parents on Saturday, May 14.
Smith-Mather was a member of the Class of 1997, along with Brooke Baldwin, a CNN Newsroom TV anchor, who spoke at last year’s graduation.
“He was outgoing, funny, and cut across all different friend groups,” said interim head of Upper School Jim Justice. “Whenever there was social conflict, he was always the bridge builder.”
Smith-Mather was also a member of the track team during his time at Westminster.
“My strongest memory of Shelvis was on a sunny day in the spring,” said Justice. “He was laughing down by the track.”
After his studying at Westminster, Smith-Mather went on to graduate from Furman University in Greenville, South Carolina, and Emory University’s Candler School of Theology, where he received two graduate degrees. During his time at Emory University, he worked through the Presbyterian Church USA, National Black Presbyterian Caucus, and National Council of Churches to address racial, gender, and socioeconomic injustice.
Furthermore, Smith-Mather coordinated theological peace initiatives through the Fellowship of Christian Councils and Churches in the Great Lakes and Horn of Africa (FECCLAHA). He partnered with the National Council of Churches in nine countries, helping address the area’s ethnic, gender, political, and religious issues. In addition, Smith-Mather has been a mission worker in South Sudan since 2011. He serves as the principal of the RECONCILE Peace Institute, an organization that provides training for three months each year to South Sudanese church and community leaders throughout the country, especially in the areas with the highest conflict. The institute offers training in two different areas, Community Based Trauma Healing and Peace Studies and Conflict Transformation. The members taking the course learn important skills and knowledge through lectures, group discussions, presentations, case studies, and more.
Some skills include those necessary for facilitating trauma recovery and conflict transformation. After the training, they return to their communities and apply their new knowledge with the support of the Peace Institute.
“An ordained minister and acclaimed preacher, Shelvis speaks widely about the significant role of the church in reconciling communities in places of conflict,” according to the RECONCILE website.
Smith-Mather’s wife, Nancy, is a Westminster graduate from the class of 1998. Along with Smith-Mather, she attended Furman University and Emory University. She is the manager of the South Sudan Education and Peace Building Project (SSEPP). SSEPP is a five-year initiative focused on improving education in South Sudan, involved in mobilizing communities to support local schools, increasing the number of girls attending school, training teachers, and building schools. This is an important initiative for South Sudan because the country has the highest school dropout rate for girls in the world, and one-third of primary-aged children do not attend school.
Nancy and Shelvis Smith-Mather have two children, Jordan and Adalyn. They both received local South Sudanese names as well, Jordan’s being “Yopay,” a name given to babies born early, and Adalyn’s “Keji,” meaning “home,” as a way to show the family that they are welcome in South Sudan. Jordan was the first American baby born to US-born parents in South Sudan.
The class of 2016 looks forward to hearing to Smith-Mather as they finish their final few days of school.