Story by Lisa Rice
The Warwick Valley High School Senior Class of 2017 gathered together for the traditional multi-faith Baccalaureate Ceremony on Thurs., Jun. 22 at 7 p.m. at The Church of St. Stephen. After filing into the center rows of the church, the graduates were greeted by Father Jack Arlotta, Pastor of St. Stephen’s.
“To all these graduates, we ask that they may make a significant contribution to our society,” Arlotta said in his prayer of invocation.
Senior Chelsea Fox offered the first reading from Jeremiah 17:7-8, followed by Madison Parelli reciting the responsorial Psalm 37. Danielle Cheney read Philippians 1:2-11, Jason Nafash read scripture from Luke 22:24-27 and Patrick Berryman read 1 Thessalonians 5:11-18. Noah Kreigel ended the senior scripture readings with a prayer in Hebrew.
Have Faith & Face Challenges
It is customary at the ceremony for a parent of a graduating senior to address the graduates and this year, Reverend Don Heatley, father of graduate Isaac Heatley, took center stage.
“I would imagine in the past twelve years that you’ve been in school you have been asked literally thousands of questions,” he began, garnering laughter and nods of agreement from his audience. “A question I can guarantee most, if not all of you have asked yourselves is, ‘when are we ever going to use this in the real world?’” He asked the students if anyone had ever actually asked that question to a teacher and Patrick Berryman responded that he had and it was regarding calculus.
Heatley then acknowledged that some things done in school do become obsolete as life goes on, mentioning cursive writing, climbing a rope to the ceiling and dodge ball. However, he acknowledged that many adults probably wouldn’t mind playing dodge ball in the workplace saying, “Wouldn’t you love to hit people you work with with the dodge ball and they had to go?”
“There is one thing that I guarantee you will never do again,” he told the seniors, adding, “play the recorder.”
Heatley told the students how he disagreed with a recent article he saw that listed ten things you learn in high school that you’ll never use again, which included science, math and history. He stated that even if you aren’t a scientist, you need to know what’s going on with the planet; that even if you don’t use math in a career, math knowledge can help you understand a town budget; that you need to know history to know what not to repeat. Then he stated that the list also included faith.
“Your faith. Ask, ‘will I ever use that again?’ It is more likely that some of you will play the recorder before you’ll ever step foot in a church again, except for a funeral or wedding,” he said. “Religion is hard. You have to deal with religious people. I used to be a pastor. I know.”
“When Jesus was asked what is the most important thing to learn, he went to his scriptures and responded, ‘Love God with all your heart, with all your soul and love your neighbor as yourself’,” he said. “That advice of what’s important to know isn’t part of your life, it is your life.” To prove his point, he had the kids take out their cell phones and announce some of the apps that were on their home screen.
“These apps don’t function on their own; they require an operating system,” he said. “Your life is life apps; school, work, friends, etc. It’s tempting to think of your faith as just an app. Your spirituality is your operating system. Even if you see yourself as agnostic or atheist, that is your operating system.”
“You’re going into a world that has many challenges and they need a person like you. Challenge the world to be a more loving place, a more just place, a more forgiving place. Your faith should challenge you.”
Heatley ended with a benediction he attributed to Bishop Desmond Tutu: “’May the Lord disturb you and trouble you; May the Lord set an impossible task before you, and dare you to meet it; May the Lord give you strength to do your best; and then – but only then- May the Lord grant you peace. Amen.”
Prayers for Graduates & Parents
The Warwick Valley Meistersingers, under the direction of Noreen Hanson, performed a musical interlude, the Beatles song, “In My Life,” and then Reverend Tim Anderson from the St. Peter Lutheran Church provided a prayer for the graduates.
“We thank You for generously bringing these graduates to this point in their formal education,” he started. “We ask that you bless them with wisdom and guidance that will have implications on their lives for years to come.”
Warwick Assembly of God Pastor Tim Jantzen offered a prayer for the parents. “For these parents, I thank You for the sacrifices they have made and for those going off to college, may their pocketbooks afford it.”
“May their dreams and aspirations come to fruition,” he continued, concluding with “for every single student, may they honor their parents.”
Returning to the pulpit, Anderson stated that he had to change his benediction after Heatley’s remarks, but assured everyone he was all set, because he always kept an extra in his back pocket. He then proceeded to recite the traditional Gaelic prayer: “May the road rise up to meet you. May the wind be always at your back. May the sun shine warm upon your face; the rains fall soft upon your fields; and until we meet again, may God hold you in the palm of His hand.”
The Meistersingers concluded the ceremony with “Erev Shel Shoshanim” and then the graduates and their families enjoyed refreshments provided by the Knights of Columbus before gathering on the parish lawn for a final senior class photo.
The hot topic of discussion after the ceremony: would the graduation ceremony take place out on the football field as planned, or for the first time in many, many years, would it be moved indoors?