The Paris High School graduating class of 2018 celebrated new beginnings with the Lord’s blessings.
Baccalaureate service was held Wednesday (May 23) at the First Methodist Church of Paris. The interdenominational Christian-based service was a celebration honoring the graduating seniors followed by a reception and a time of fellowship in the church basement. It is sponsored annually by the Paris Ministerial Fellowship.
“Basically, the service was asking the Lord to bless the seniors as they move on to the next stage of their lives,” said Pastor Kurt Speece who serves the Bell Ridge Christian Church. Speece, along with other church leaders, are members of the ministers group who helped organize the event with help from the senior class officers.
In generations past, attendance at the baccalaureate service was mandatory. The service was part of graduation for PHS seniors and was held in the PHS Ernie Eveland Gymnasium. The members of the graduating class even wore their caps and gowns to the service. During those years special music was provided by the school chorus or special ensemble under the direction of the school chorus teacher.
School-sponsored baccalaureate services were common until the early 1990s when several federal courts ruled them a violation of the principle of the Establishment Clause. A fundamental principle of the Establishment Clause is a public school may not advance, prefer or promote religion. Because it is generally understood that a baccalaureate service is a religious event, a public school may not be involved in the organization or execution of a baccalaureate in any way that would make an objective observer believe that the school is endorsing the event. As a result, baccalaureate services are not official school events.
Baccalaureate has become a reflective celebration focusing on the personal growth and achievement and how God will be present in students’ lives as they leave high school.
The ministerial fellowship organizes the local event in compliance with the separation of church and state. Traditionally, the First United Methodist Church hosts the event.
“Years ago local ministers felt baccalaureate was important to have for the graduates. Since then, the association has been sponsoring the event yearly,” explained Speece.
Pastor Troy Warner of the First Baptist Church addressed the seniors, and Pastor Nate Alexander of Lake Ridge Christian Church delivered a special prayer for the PHS Class of 2018.
As is tradition, a PHS faculty member also addressed the audience. This year, chemistry teacher Brett Block was selected by the class officers to speak to the seniors, families and friends.
Emily Hall provided the invocation and Madison Thomas gave the welcome and message from the class of 2018. Katie Smith led the benediction.
The processional and recessional were provided by former PHS band director and retired chorus teacher Susan Hiddle.
Following the service, a reception for the seniors and their families was held in the church basement.
There are schools and school districts that have defied the edict from the courts and organizations such as the Freedom from Religion. Most recently, Santa Fe High School — the site for the recent school shooting — hosted a service for their senior class.
According to a story by the Associated Press, Santa Fe High School’s seniors are marking the end of their graduating year with a baccalaureate service two days after a gunman killed 10 on their Houston-area campus.
“Pomp and Circumstance” played Sunday evening as the seniors filed into the pews of Arcadia First Baptist Church. Hundreds of parents and siblings applauded. Some of the graduates offered small smiles to people they knew.
The baccalaureate service was moved from Santa Fe High School’s auditorium because of the shooting.
The first speaker was graduate Aaron Chenoweth, who gave a short testimony about the trials and tribulations this graduating class had faced. Chenoweth called on the deeply religious community to glorify God to find comfort and love.
The event was supposed to be a happy one: a celebration to honor those who were graduating from Santa Fe High School.
Guest speaker was Galveston County District Attorney Jack Roady, who had been asked to speak weeks before the attack.
“To the seniors, I would like to be able to tell you on your graduation, that you’re going to embark on this life that is filled with happiness, and
it’s going to be wonderful for you,” said Roady. “But I cannot, because you are not. You are entering into a war zone in the world, and it’s a spiritual war zone.”
In speaking about the mass shooting, Roady acknowledged the students were still suffering from the shooting — in “ways that no one else can understand. You are already dealing with the full effects of sin in our world,” he said.
Following the Paris church service a small reception was held in the church basement.
Local churches donated cookies and the women of the UMC served punch to the guests as they shared a time of fellowship with the seniors.