For many years, the Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council has sponsored annual Baccalaureate services, honoring — in a spiritually inclusive way — our seniors as they graduate from high school.
Held this year on June 3, at Grace Episcopal Church, the interfaith service reflected the mission of the interfaith council — to share, respect, and celebrate our different religious traditions, seeking faith-based common ground by working together for the good in our community and beyond.
This year’s theme, created by the student planning committee, was “Deep roots, strong branches.”
As an Interfaith Council representative on the committee, I had the privilege of sitting in on the student discussions led by parent volunteer Shannon Amelang. These students were thoughtful, consistent and committed to creating a meaningful event for all participants, graduates and families and friends. I would like to share some highlights from the inspiring speakers.
Senior Spencer Nicholas, in his very thought-provoking comments, answered three questions: “What is a family?” Interdependence and love. “What makes a family strong?” Mutual trust. “What makes a family last?” Strong family and community values. It requires the moral example of parents and the responsibility of students to carry on those values.
“We are an island built upon the values of our past generations.
“Hope. Love. Passion. Community.”
Senior Josie Meier grew up in a Coast Guard family that moved every two or three years. This taught her to value each moment and appreciate others and new experiences. In her five years on Bainbridge, she has felt welcomed. “After so many moves, I now finally feel like I have a hometown and have roots.” She implored her peers to “take this love we share for our community and spread it across the globe.”
As the Youth Minister at St. Cecelia Parish, Neil Raymond eloquently explored how to find what is precious in life. One of the first poems he read in school was Joyce Kilmer’s, “Trees.”
Neil remembers thinking “that this must be a really strange girl to say, “I think that I shall never see anything as lovely as a tree.” Trees were great to climb and swing on, but “lovely”? Later he learned Joyce Kilmer was a guy who was killed in the first World War. He left us that metaphor for what was precious to him.
Neil told his own war story about a significant tree in Vietnam. He says, “It may have enlarged my own rooting snout to find some more precious truffles of life.”
He quoted one Beatitude, “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” “Jesus says the pure of heart shall see God! To be pure of heart means to be free of selfish intentions and self-seeking desires… to see the trees, to see the child, to hear the symphony, to be truly grateful for the legs in our stockings.
I think a worthy way for us to spend our time is to find something precious in our lives right now and use it like a pry bar put into the old iron doors of our hearts and break them open and let the love out.
Expressed colloquially in the thoughts of Kurt Vonnegut at the Baptism of twin babies: “There’s only one rule that I know of, babies – God d…it, you’ve got to be kind.”
BHS English teacher Emily Eigen began by honoring elders past and present of the Suquamish, on whose traditional lands she feels grateful to call home.
She shared four “lessons from the forest.”
Lesson 1: Stay grounded — The wider the root structure of a tree the farther the branches extend. So with us. “As you stretch towards your goals find something or someone or some idea to keep you centered as you reach.”
Lesson 2: Have direction. Trees grow up, toward the light. Be intentional. Live with purpose.
Lesson 3: Allow yourself to change. Trees that bend and adjust to weather stay standing. So be resilient in adversity and when you need to change course “do so with humility and grace”.
Lesson 4: Find your forest. “We benefit when we live in harmony with those around us and allow our strengths to strengthen others. We live not just for ourselves, but for the forest in which we live. So extend your roots, surround yourself with others, stretch your limbs and reach your faces to the sun. Thrive.”
Interspersed between the speakers were heartfelt musical offerings. To bring all the seniors into the sanctuary, Davis Jensen played a prelude and a processional piece on the piano. Nina Davis, accompanied by Carter Hall on the piano, soulfully sang Carole King’s loved song, “You’ve got a Friend.”
I accompanied Banning Jones’ beautiful trombone solo.
Ben Greene played his guitar and sang a song he wrote in honor of graduation, which laid out his emotional journey for each of his four years of high school.
A congregational hymn, a Litany of Affirmation, a Ritual Offering and prayers from clergy and a Buddhist blessing completed the ceremony followed by refreshments outside on the patio.
I share so much of this service because it was so meaningful. Our young people are shining examples of thoughtfulness and leadership. We as a community should be so grateful for all the resources we have to give and the sense of family felt by the students.
Susan R. Anderson is a member of the Bainbridge Island/North Kitsap Interfaith Council.