The Commencement Weekend Interfaith Baccalaureate service was held at Western Presbyterian Church. Sarah Mann | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Graduates and their families gathered for the 15th annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Service at the Western Presbyterian Church Saturday morning to share prayer and celebrate the Class of 2015.
Five graduating seniors from a variety of religious backgrounds shared their reflections on how their religion and the Interfaith community has impacted their time at GW.
The ceremony also included multiple musical performances by the University Singers and graduates and brief remarks from University President Steven Knapp.
1. Turning to faith in times of change
Reverend Adam Park, the chaplain of the Newman Center, opened the morning with remarks on the close connection between education and religion, and offered a prayer for the graduating class in this new period of their lives.
Quoting the namesake of the organization, Cardinal John Henry Newman, Park said, “To live is to change, and to be perfect is to have changed often.”
“[Lord,] may you instill within them a spirit of excitement and joy for this momentous occasion in their lives,” Park said. “May they look forward to the future and with confident hope that in the midst of these changes in their lives, it may lead them to perfection.”
Chaplain Meraj Allahrakha, community adviser of the GW Muslim Student Association, also recited a brief prayer for the Class of 2015 and talked about the many ways God is present in their lives, especially during college.
He said God can come in many forms and go by many names, but said in his tradition it is the person you call upon when you are on a sinking ship in the middle of the ocean. He got a laugh from the crowd by following with, “Many of us know this feeling: It was just finals week.”
2. Breaking barriers, building friendships
All five students stressed their personal religious evolution throughout college, but more importantly the growth of the Interfaith community as a whole.
“While I cannot overstate how integral Judaism is to my identity, and how important it has been to me throughout my time at GW, I also must note how critical it has been to be part of an interfaith community,” Kiana Davis said. “We were able to look past labels and prejudices. We supported each other, advised one another and became friends.”
Davis, along with Floyd Jones, a Protestant, Nicolas Pedreira, a Catholic, Farah Albani, a Muslim, and Ross Rattanasena, a Buddhist, elaborated on the close bonds they had formed both with God and each other throughout the year and the progress the Interfaith community has made at GW.
“While the core of our relationship is an exclusive relationship between ourselves and God, we often forget that that relationship can be strengthened by coming together,” Albani said. “We met often over coffee or a meal to discuss the various struggles that come with being a faith leader, to plan events that we could put on together that would redefine interfaith and somewhere along the line we became friends.”
University President Steven Knapp spoke at the Interfaith Baccalaureate on Saturday service. Sarah Mann | Hatchet Staff Photographer
3. Universal value of compassion
After a brief introduction by Student Association President Andie Dowd, Knapp took the podium to express his pride in the Interfaith community and the graduating class.
He discussed the work of Karen Armstrong, a historian of religion, who sought to answer what all world religions could agree on.
“Her striking answer was a single word. Compassion,” Knapp said.
He explained how impressed he has been with the compassion the Interfaith community and University community has shown throughout the year, especially in times of sorrow.
Knapp also mentioned the deadly Amtrak train derailment and said two current students were on the train and that he had exchanged emails with both of them. He explained Linnea Magsuci, a rising junior, had something she wanted to share with the graduating class. A 1990 alumna also died in that accident.
“’Tell the Class of 2015 to remember that life is the most precious gift, and we sometimes forget how lucky we are to be alive and healthy,’” she told Knapp in an email. “’Use that gift to make a difference. Stay kind and stay generous.’”
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