Story by Lisa Rice
The First Presbyterian Church in Florida, NY hosted an Interfaith Baccalaureate Service for members of the 2019 graduating class of S.S. Seward Institute on Thurs., June 27 at 7 p.m. More than half of the 58 seniors graduating attended the service, where they received praise, congratulations, blessings, and words of inspiration from their community.
The students were organized on the front steps by Principal Michael Rheaume for a group photograph before walking into the church to the hymn, “O God, Our Help in Ages Past,” accompanied by organist Ken Anderson.
“This is the day the Lord has made,” said Rabbi Rebecca Shinder from Temple Beth Shalom as she began the Prayer of Invocation. The crowd responded, “Let us rejoice and be glad in it.”
The rabbi discussed the term used by Moses when passing the mantle of leadership to Joshua, saying “Chazak Ve-Ematz,” which means “be strong and of courage” and gave her blessings to the graduates.
Class of 2019 Has Shown Character
“It is such an honor to be here,” said Florida Union Free School District Superintendent of Schools Jan Jehring during her words of welcome. “This is such a special service that brings different members of our community together to show our seniors support.”
“I want you to know how proud we are of you and your shared talents,” she continued. “What I think is the most special thing about this class is that you’ve shown this community your true character.”
Jehring’s comments were followed by a scripture reading from Psalm 139 by Helen Rham from St. Joseph Roman Catholic Church/St. Stanislaus Parish.
‘You Are a Work of Art Signed by God’
Reverend Judy Anderson, from the First Presbyterian Church, provided a meditation by opening with the Legend of Black Bart, who robbed 27 stagecoaches between 1875 and 1883. She said he was described as riding up on horseback and raising his shotgun 27 times. She then discussed “the man behind the legend,” explaining that his real name was Charles Boles from upstate New York and he didn’t ride; he walked up to the stage coaches with an unloaded shotgun.
“He was more impressive from the outside than the inside,” she said. “God knows you from the inside out. You are always in God’s thoughts. It is more important to have faith, family, and friends than good fortune. You are unique. Each one of you. You are a work of art signed by God.”
Thanks Parents for Sharing Their Children
S.S. Seward Institute Principal Michael Rheaume drew upon memories of children playing show and tell, excited over whatever it was that they found important enough to share with their friends and classmates.
“You have shared your children with us in a lovely show and tell; thank you,” he said.
Rheaume’s comments were followed by the S.S. Seward Select Choir performing “Forever Young” by Rod Stewart.
Senior Class Advisor Lynn McGovern explained how coming from the small Village of Florida with two Catholic churches and then going to school at St. Stephens, she didn’t realize how many other religions there were, and when her daughter told her that a friend didn’t celebrate Christmas, she assumed she was Jewish.
“It doesn’t matter what you are as long as you believe in something. You are such an amazing group of kids. You are good people. Be proud of yourself. Be kind. Whatever you believe in is between you and whoever; just believe in something.”
Rabbi Shinder followed McGovern’s comments, stating that she loved caroling and celebrating with friends. “That is the joy of America. We all count. We all matter. We pray that you will be open to meet and to learn from and with people who are different from you. Seek adventure, joy and community.”
The service concluded with Reverend Anderson and Rabbi Shinder providing a joint benediction, “Shalom, Chaverim (Farewell, Good Friends),” in both Hebrew and English. A reception in the Fellowship Hall followed.