Nearly 200 Jim Thorpe Area School District seniors, their families, friends and teachers came together at St. John's Catholic Church in Jim Thorpe to celebrate their faith through scripture readings, a sermon and prayers for future success during the students' Baccalaureate Service.
The service, which was not produced by the school district in order to avoid violating a mandate to separate church and state imposed by the nation's courts, was planned and presented by members of the senior class. While local clergymen provided an introduction and a final blessing to the proceedings, everything else was provided by the students themselves. The students were supported by the Jim Thorpe Ministerial Alliance.
The service included a number of prayers, written and presented by students, some musical numbers and a sermon by Jim Thorpe senior Danie Meader. Caitlyn Strubinger, Christian Hauze and Erin Nanovic read from the Bible. Tyra Brown, Meredith Brisbane and Hilary Reis read prayers they had written. Nicole Murlo introduced a section of the program in which seniors shared carnations with family members in the audience that they felt helped them achieve the goals they have pursued up to this point in their lives. High School junior Edwin Valentine offered a prayer for the senior class. Molly McFadden and Kim Miller sang "For Good". Meader, who plans to enter the ministry, volunteered to provide the sermon for the service. He told his classmates the stories of Esther, Noah and David from the Bible's Old Testament as well as that of Thomas Edison from American history. He said that the stories illustrated the fact that God calls upon those who have faith when times are tough.
"We are called upon to use our talents in such times as these," Meader said. "We are all meant to do great things and we are equipped to do them. The only thing that can hold us back is ourselves."
Jim Thorpe High School Principal Thomas Lesisko didn't play a formal role in the proceedings, but he was on hand to help the students line up for their entry procession and to greet students and parents as they left the church after the service. He was clearly proud of his students.
The baccalaureate service is a tradition that dates back to the time of the first American Universities, but it originated in Europe. There is some question as to whether the ceremony originated at Oxford University in the 1400's or whether it is descended from a French academic qualification developed by Napoleon to mark high school students ready to enter the university, but it is basically a coming of age ceremony that marks the separation between secondary education and the pursuit of a Bachelor's degree.
Some evidence suggests that since the earliest universities in America were founded primarily to educate ministers, the Baccalaureate Service was continued in our country in the British tradition, preserving the sermon as an important element. Over the years, an increase in diversity, particularly the introduction of more Americans of non-Judeo-Christian faiths, has caused the baccalaureate to fall out of favor in some parts of the country.
Students in Jim Thorpe, at least those that attended the non-denominational service, seem comfortable with their faith and confident in their ability to go into the world and accomplish great things.