For Tom Chappell, toothpaste wasn't enough.
The 44-year-old founder and owner of a natural products company will be among the 420 students at Harvard Divinity School's convocation today to resume his graduate studies in theology and divinity.
Chappell said he faced a choice between graduate studies in theology and an unexamined life among the personal hygiene products of Tom's of Maine, best known for its preservative-free toothpaste and shampoo.
"At age 44, I felt the need for greater understanding of how I should use my gifts and talents," Chappell said. "I wasn't sure that I should do that by making more brands of toothpaste."
Accepting men and women at midcareer who take time out to examine ethics, theology or their own careers, Harvard Divinity School boasts unlikely alumni not limited to clergy.
Past students include University of Alabama Football Coach Homer A. Smith, who graduated in 1982, and David Stockman, former director of the Reagan Administration's Office of Management and Budget.
"Masters of Theological Studies [MTS] grads probably do everything from A to Z," said Alumni/ae Relations and Special Events Coordinator Jeannie R. Peterson, who graduated last year. "Some people come to take this for self-reflection or for teaching. The degree allows the student to use it in the future to understand him or herself in the world."
The Divinity School, created in 1816, opened to provide graduate divinity students a program independent from the College, which until then ran all ministerial courses. The school integrates Harvard's original mission of educating ministers with modern demands to combine theological concerns with those of medicine, law and business.
"The Divinity School covers a veritable smorgasbord of topics of both intellectual and applied value," said Tom Garner, a Divinity School spokesman and 1985 Kennedy School graduate. Courses this year include "The Bible in Public Policy" and "Women in the U.S. Economy."
The students are as diverse as their courses. Divinity school graduate degree candidates represent more than 40 religions. Tolerance, not tension, is the norm, said Admissions Officer Ann Romberger, a 1986 graduate.
Students study theology and ethics beforereturning to jobs as investment bankers, publicpolicymakers, doctors, lawyers or entrepreneurs,Romberger said. Enrollees in the second of twoDivinity School masters programs, the Masters inDivinity Studies, mainly go on to become ordainedministers, Romberger said.
Today, the road begins for students with a12:15 p.m. convocation speech at Memorial Churchby Standahl Professor of Divinity ElisabethSchussler Fiorenza. Fiorenza, a visiting professorat the Divinity School last year, recently wontenure. She specializes in feminist biblicalinterpretation.
For Tom Chappell, the path will not stop whenhe takes his degree. Upon graduation, he said, "Iplan to integrate theology with business andperhaps politics in which I would seek to leadpeople toward a higher sense of ethical purpose intheir life.