High school graduations are a time of celebration, but for some community groups they are a tip-toe dance around the U.S. Constitution to plan baccalaureate services.
The tradition of offering a non-denominational service that allows students to express their spiritual beliefs dates back to the 15th century when graduates of Oxford University were required to give a sermon.
For many years, public high school administrators and parent-teacher groups organized the events at high schools. After the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in 1992 that prayer at public-school graduation ceremonies violates the constitution, many baccalaureate services moved off campus and are now organized by the community.
Michelle Muir is a volunteer helping plan the baccalaureate service for Cary High School graduates.
“This is my third year on the committee,” she said. “Celebrating students’ spiritual lives is an important component to graduation.”
The committee encourages students of all faiths to participate in the ceremony. Seniors are encouraged to wear their cap and gown.
The program is student-led and includes music, scripture readings and inspirational poems. Muir’s daughter will perform an original composition, “Wherever You Go,” with Judson MacDonald.
“It’s a goodbye song with wish for the future and understanding that everyone has a different path,” Erin Muir said. “We are people with souls and need to celebrate how far we’ve grown.”
Lin Dawson is the speaker for the Cary High baccalaureate event.
“The baccalaureate is a time of reflection, gratitude and belief that the values parents and guardians instilled in their children will last a lifetime,” Dawson said.
Graduating seniors from Fuquay-Varina High School are invited to attend the baccalaureate service at Fuquay-Varina United Methodist Church organized by Kevin Johnson.
“At one point it alternated between churches, but our church has the largest space to hold it,” said Johnson, who is the youth pastor for FVUMC.
The chamber choir from Fuquay-Varina High School will perform at the service, and the Junior Marshals will participate as ushers.
Many people say that despite some obstacles, planning a baccalaureate is worth the effort.
The U.S. Department of Education has a guide that outlines how school buildings may be used for baccalaureate services. The Wake County school system doesn’t have a specific policy on baccalaureate events, but it clarifies that the services are not sponsored by the schools.
“This program is a beautiful addition to the graduation season by reminding graduates of their purpose and worth to their peers, teachers, community and the world,” MacDonald said.