By Maggie Helmick, MTS ’23
Editor’s Note: In honor of the new student orientation taking place this week and the first day of the fall semester just around the corner, we’ve put together this post to introduce you to a few members of this year’s incoming class. From the goal of advancing a moral argument for the health equity of vulnerable populations to supporting marginalized practitioners of vernacular Buddhism, we hope you enjoy getting to know the backgrounds and dreams of a few of our newest classmates.
Saly Sirothphiphat (she/they series), MDiv ’25
As a Buddhist born and raised in rural Thailand, I come from a community where humans and spirits share living space. I am intrigued by the many lenses through which to view and reflect on my experiences with Thai rural Buddhism by studying early Christianity and medieval history. I decided to apply to divinity school to find answers to my spiritual questions, to understand the history and the shaping of the beliefs I hold, to live in harmony with my spiritual identity, and to help those whose beliefs might be judged as “superstitious” as opposed to “scientific.” I chose to attend HDS in particular because it is one of few schools that offers strong Theravada Buddhism courses and, as a participant in the Diversity and Explorations (DivEx) Program, I learned that HDS welcomes and supports people of diverse beliefs, backgrounds, and identities, while also recognizing its imperfection in doing so and seeking tools to better build a diverse and inclusive experience. This summer leading up to my enrollment, I am working, taking an elementary Pali course through HDS’s Summer Language Program, and playing with my kitten, Soybeef.
Kevin Ross (he series), MRPL ’23
As a mid-career interfaith social justice activist, serving on the frontlines and pastoring a multifaith, multiethnic, spiritual community, amid a racial and public health pandemic, I often feel woefully underprepared to lead in these times. I decided to apply to divinity school because I have more questions than I do answers and because I need more tools and more friends to help me solve some of the most pressing issues of our time. The Master of Religion and Public Life program and its aims powerfully resonated with me and is leading me to Cambridge this fall. This summer, I led a 17-day ecotouristic service mission and safari to Tanzania and Zanzibar, where our group brought equipment, educational supplies, and financial resources to hundreds of Maasai children who were orphaned due to the AIDS crisis that ravaged parts of Eastern Africa. We produced a documentary of our work to inspire more people to hold hands with the many causes we have embraced. We believe our work will help bring Maasai children out of the fields retrieving water and into the classrooms building dreams. I also spent the summer vacationing with my family in Puerto Rico and soaking up as much quality time with them as possible before I relocate (as they like to remind me) to Cambridge for nine months. As for my anticipated career path, I’m not fully sure what I want to be when I grow up. However, I do believe it will involve me hosting a multimedia international travel television program that shines a spotlight on everyday people and amazing organizations that are a force for good in the world. I want to inspire people to see themselves as fully empowered agents capable of living legacy-leaving lives.
Dana Hoey (she series), MDiv ’25
I have wanted to enroll in divinity school for 27 years. At age 29, I took the path of art school and became a professional artist and professor. It has been an excellent career, but I am an ethically driven artist and it is now time to focus on a more service-based life. I chose Harvard because of the breadth and depth of academic inquiry, and because it offers double the field work of comparable institutions. My goal is to become the most well-educated hospital chaplain possible, partly because I adore studying religions and partly because I want to be of service to diverse people. I am spending this last summer as co-chair of the M.F.A. photography program at Bard College, my swan song as a teacher. I also did a last (for now) art show in NYC. To prepare to attend Harvard, I have increased my meditation time and read chaplaincy and Buddhist chaplaincy books. I am so incredibly excited to meet you all and get to work!
Vanessa Beltran (she series), MTS ’24
Working as a dietitian at a community health center in 2019, I grew increasingly frustrated by my inability to impact the factors at the root of the chronic diseases my patients were managing: unstable housing, inadequate access to healthy foods, dangerous working conditions, chronic psychosocial stress, and more. Wondering how I might help to address the upstream factors of poor health so that, beyond the absence of infirmity, everyone has the opportunity to experience well-being and flourishing, I decided to attend the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. During my graduate training, I learned how social epidemiology focuses on turning public attention to policy and systems change to improve population health and came to understand the importance of religion in the practice of medicine and public health, particularly for the Latine community I primarily served. Since graduating from HSPH, I’ve been troubled by the way religion, ethics, and politics interact, leading me to pursue an MTS degree at Harvard Divinity School. I hope my time at HDS will allow me to develop a well-rounded understanding of the political determinants of health equity, especially in issues where religion and policy become one, and how a moral argument for the care of vulnerable populations can be made more effectively. Upon graduating from HDS, I hope to continue working on issues related to health equity, nutrition security, and social justice. As the summer progresses, and my move to Boston approaches, my deepest desire is to slow down time. I am spending my summer before my enrollment at HDS enjoying every inch of my city, Austin, and cherishing the moments I have with the people I love. When I arrive in Boston, I am looking forward to nesting with my fiancée and exploring the nearby Alewife Brook Reservation with our three dogs: Scoob, Ms. Lilly Dog, and Third Way.
Rajeev Persaud (he series), MTS ’24
As both a practicing Hindu and a student, I believe divinity school will provide an opportunity to approach religious studies both as an academic and as a practitioner. HDS is also uniquely non-sectarian, offering a rich divinity school experience tailored to Hinduism unlike many other places. At HDS, I am excited to focus on Hindu studies, specifically aiming to uncover foundations for anti-caste ideology within Hindu scriptures, though I am equally looking forward to new experiences in the Boston area – it’ll be an interesting transition from Toronto! This summer, I’ve been making the most of my time in my home city with my friends and family, while also doing research for the McMaster Centre for Buddhist Studies. I hope to pursue a career in law after my time at HDS, but I’m open to any avenues Harvard may take me down!
We hope you enjoyed this peek into our incoming class! If you are interested in learning more about attending HDS or would like to speak with a current HDS student about their student experience, email us at email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org, respectively.