Monday, June 13, 2005

Baccalaureate: Who Needs It?

Baccalaureate: noun, a farewell sermon to a graduating class at their commencement ceremonies

I had to look up this definition to make sure I had it right. Does anyone remember these? When I graduated from high school in 1970, public schools in most areas had a baccalaureate service the Sunday before graduation on Tuesday. The college I graduated from in 1974 had baccalaureate the Sunday before graduation on Monday, but it was a church affiliated college. Of course medical school didn't have one and I have not been to many graduations since so I don't know when this tradition stopped. In the case of the public schools it probably fell victim to the "separation of church and state" hoopla that has systematically tried to divest the United States of all reference to God in schools and all governmental proceedings.

I went to high school in a small western Pennsylvania town. My high school was condemned a few years after I graduated and torn down. I believe we were one of the last classes to graduate there. My father delivered the baccalaureate sermon that Sunday, May 31st, 1970. I was more nervous than he was. As a preacher's kid I was often an illustration, and was petrified that he would use me as such in this service. I remember going over these ground rules again and again, "You can use Stephen, he's only eight, but DO NOT USE ME. No stories of falling into trash cans, of getting out of recitals by getting the measles, of breaking a window with my fist, of having a light fixture fall and hit me on the head, of falling off my bike (multiple times in the same day) or any other embarrassing thing."

All in all, he did well, no references to any comic moments by the graduate while delivering words of wisdom for life to all attending. Alphabetically, I was seated next to one of the good-looking football players who had never said a word to me in three years. After the message he turned to me and said, "Wow, your dad really had some interesting things to say!" I knew dad always spoke from his heart and that he lived what he preached but it was nice to hear someone else say so. I was also pretty amazed that the football player could actually put a coherent sentence together.

Now, the ceremony is gone in all but a few schools. The "wisdom" is left to the commencement speaker who may be a comic, an entertainer, a politician or other public figure. The speech is usually longer than necessary and filled with platitudes about "graduation is a beginning, not the end", "you are the future", "there are no limits to what you can do" and "make the world a better place for your children". Most are forgotten by the next day.

The most inappropriate commencement speaker I've ever heard had to be Amy Tuck, Lt. Governor of Mississippi. She addressed the class of 2000 at Immanuel High School in Columbus, Mississippi. Her address was about public education in Mississippi, the strides made in the state system, the plans for the future and the need for parental support financially in the form of taxes. So many things about this would have been comical if it hadn't been so sad. First, Mississippi ranks 48th or 49th in public education overall (one exception is the School for Math & Science). Secondly, she was speaking to graduates and parents in a small church affiliated private school. The parents paid their taxes AND paid tuition for their students to go to this school so they would NOT have to go to the public schools. Immanuel did not receive any of the state money for any public programs she talked about. And to top it all off she had no platitudes, none, nada. No words of wisdom. It was a campaign speech and she had no connection to the audience. It was truly a bizarre night.

In this day of declining moral values and the relentless "graying" of things right and wrong, our kids need more than this. They need more than the "wisdom" dispensed at commencement by politically correct speakers, they need God, no matter how hard we try to deny it as a nation, He is what we need. I know that a "one shot" dose of God's Word at baccalaureate is not enough but these days it may be the only opportunity some have to hear the message. "Oh, but we might offend someone who is an atheist or some other religion!" I hear judges handing down rulings every day that offend me, news media offering views rather than facts and child molesters being cheered instead of convicted. All these things offend me as a Christian, yet no one is treading lightly or changing rules so that I might not be offended. Instead, Christians are told to be "tolerant", but it works both ways.

We need to resurrect the baccalaureate service at graduation. It's obvious our kids need more than they are getting from commencement. In today's world, it couldn't possibly hurt.

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