- Associated Press - Monday, May 9, 2016

COLUMBIA, S.C. (AP) - When he, along with eight of his parishioners, was slain last summer at the historic black church he pastored, Clementa Pinckney was working on his thesis for a Doctorate of Ministry degree.

On Monday, that goal came to fruition, as Pinckney’s widow, Jennifer, and their two daughters accepted his posthumous diploma during commencement ceremonies for Wesley Theological Seminary at Washington National Cathedral.

Pinckney was among the nine people gunned down last June during a Wednesday night Bible study at the church he pastored, Emanuel AME.

During the ceremonies, Wesley president David McAllister-Wilson said Pinckney had finished his coursework and was, at the time of his death, working on a thesis dealing with his dual role as public servant and minister.

Jennifer Pinckney, who said she had planned to come alone to accept the honor, ending up bringing her children because her husband was a family man and would want them to share in the occasion.

“Clementa, you did it,” she said during the ceremony. “You accomplished a goal that many people dream of. And even though you’re not here to walk with your fellow classmates physically, I know that you’re here with us spiritually.”

The school’s faculty voted unanimously to confer the degree posthumously, officials said. The slayings, which stunned the nation, reignited discussions about race relations and led to the removal of a Confederate battle flag from the South Carolina Statehouse.

Dylann Roof, who is charged in the shootings, had previously posed for photos with a rebel flag. After his arrest, several relatives of those killed at the church told Roof they forgave him for his alleged crimes.

“The outpouring of grace from that church community and the fall of the Confederate flag in the capital was evidence of the fruit of his ministry,” McAllister-Wilson said, of Pinckney’s legacy.

The seminary president also read a letter from President Barack Obama, who eulogized Pinckney at his funeral in Charleston last year. In the letter, Obama praised Pinckney’s accomplishments and encouraged his fellow graduates to continue to learn from his example of studying dual tracks of public service and faith leadership.

“He did not view these novel callings as working in conflict with one another but as working in concert with one another,” McAllister-Wilson read from the letter. “I pray his example endures in your ministry, and I congratulate you all.”

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Kinnard can be reached at http://twitter.com/MegKinnardAP . Read more of her work at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/meg-kinnard/

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