As they approach their final days at Tamaqua Area High School, members of the graduating class of 2010 were reminded to make a positive difference in the lives of others.
That was the message that the Reverend Kevin Duffy-Guy, pastor of St. John United Church of Christ, Tamaqua, delivered during Tamaqua Area's baccalaureate service Sunday evening at St. Jerome Roman Catholic Church.
The service, which is sponsored annually by the Tamaqua Area Ministerial Association, has undergone added scrutiny due to the involvement of the American Civil Liberties Union (ACLU), which met with Tamaqua Area School District officials after being contacted by a student of the district.
The Tamaqua Area Board of Education released a memo to students and staff members on Friday clarifying its stance regarding the service.
The district's clarification stressed that attendance at baccalaureate by students was not mandatory and that administration and staff attending the service could not do so as official representatives of the district.
The service was attended by 482 and was held without any problems. About 90 students, about 60 percent of the approximately 150 members of the graduating class, attended baccalaureate, wearing their caps and gowns.
District administrators and faculty members at the service wore badges indicating that they were "St. Jerome Ushers", stressing that their attendance was voluntarity.
The Rev. James C. Bechtel, host pastor of St. Jerome's, Tamaqua, provided the welcome and call to worship.
Jacqueline Stewart, class secretary, read from Isiah, chapter 35:1-6 and chapter 43: 1-4, in which God tells Israel that he will protect their nation: "When you pass through the water, I will be with you; in the rivers you shall not drown. When you walk through fire you shall not be burned; the flames shall not consume you."
Stewart also read from St. Paul's Letter to the Romans, chapter 12: 9-21, in which St. Paul advises them to conquer evil by doing good and to live at peace with all.
Laura Walser, class treasurer, read from the Gospel of St. John, Chapter 21:15-19, where Jesus asked St. Peter three times if he loves Him, and when Peter responds in the affirmative, is told by Jesus, "Feed my sheep."
Duffy-Guy reminded the graduates that God created them, is protecting them and will be there to help them cross tough waters and when difficulties come into their lives.
"What are you to do with your lives?" Duffy-Guy asked. He then told a story of a man who was near the end of his life, and his family and friends threw a party to celebrate his life. The man was surprised by how many people told him he had touched their lives and made a difference.
"Our lives are about making a difference in people's lives," said Duffy-Guy. "We are here to build relationships and to make the world better than when you arrived.
"Jesus asked Peter three times, 'do you love me?' and three times told him to 'feed my sheep'. What it's about is feeding sheep and knowing you have made a difference in others' lives.
"Life is at its best when we know what we are doing is impacting the lives of others for the better," concluded Duffy-Guy.
The Tamaqua Jazz and Concert Chorale, under the direction of John Buglio, sang "Another Bridge to Cross" and "Go Ye Now in Peace". The former reminded the graduates that "no one said it was easy, when you say goodbye".
Geoffrey Sincavage, class president, led the seniors in the Prayer for the Graduating Class, in which they ask God to continue to be their compass as they pass through life.
Commencement exercises for the Class of 2010 will be held Friday, June 4 at 7:30 p.m. at Tamaqua Area Sports Stadium.