No Prayer at Graduation


 Copyright © 1993 – Tim Arensmeier


            We have a friend in Bakersfield, California, who is a poor dirt farmer.  Or, so he says.  The truth be known, he and his delightful wife are “diversified” farmers.  Meaning, they have several different crops, growing at various times throughout the year; he owns a construction company and a real estate company.  They have raised their family quite successfully.  Two of their sons work with their parents in various aspects of the family businesses, are married and doing well on their own rights.


            Our friend, whom I’ll call Larry, served on a couple of our President’s Agricultural Commissions, and among other things in which he has been involved, he ran for and was elected to the local school board, where his kids were attending high school.


            The graduation ceremony where the following incident took place, was held in the late 70’s when the idea of prayer in public schools was being hotly contested.  Larry was, that year by rotation of the district school board, its chairman.


            There were approximately 350 graduates of the particular school where his second daughter was then being graduated.  The program was printed.  The various activities had been carefully scrutinized to insure that nothing of a “religious” nature would be even loosely alluded to, and the guest passes had been issued to each graduating senior.


            The festivities were being held outdoors in the school football stadium, and while warm, it was not an oppressive day for the graduating class of 1977.  Butterflies were truly “flying” in the stomachs of the valedictorian, a close friend of Larry’s daughter, Sally and other students and presenters of the occasion.


            Sally’s Grandparents had traveled from Missouri to see their only granddaughter actually graduate from high school.  A feat which neither of them had accomplished.  In their wonderful tradition of being Southern Baptists, it was a disappointment to both grand parents, as well as a thumping majority of the parents and grand parents attending the ceremony, as well as most of the student body, that an invocation would not be permitted, by fiat of the County School District Board of Trustees, of which Larry was the then chair.  You must know that Larry didn’t agree with the edict, but the school district’s attorney had so ordered in order to avoid any potential or possible litigation against the school board.


            Ten o’clock in the morning came.  The family, visitors and distinguished guests had all arrived, and the Class of 1977 processed in, to the occasional cheers of friends and family members.  The weather was delightful.  The mountains were even in view.  No fog, smog or haze.  An unusually clear day for early June.


            As the initial welcome was made by one of the School Vice Principals, and the pledge of allegiance to the Flag of the United States of America was loudly recited, there was a general hubbub as people, students and dignitaries were seated again.


            On the program, in place of what traditionally would have been an invocation, it was listed that Larry Grosvenor, Chair of the County Unified School District, would give the official welcome to the dignitaries, guests and graduating seniors.


            Larry, by the way, stands around 6 foot, 6 inches tall, and probably weighed in at around 225 pounds.  He’s one of those people whom you wouldn’t want to meet in a dark alley, but who also knows and loves Jesus Christ, and works at being a true follower of our Savior.  He is the kind of person whom people watch stand up, and the place automatically gets quiet.  I think that if he were to start reciting the alphabet, everybody would get silent and listen all the way through.


            Larry stood to the podium, leaned over to speak into the microphone, and this is essentially what he said:


            Mr. Mayor, Dr. Ellwood (principal of the school), members of the school board, parents of the graduating class of 1977, guests and graduates:  Greetings and Congratulations. 


          It is my privilege, as the current chair of the school board, to officially welcome you to this grand and wonderful event.  In years past, this would have been the place in these ceremonies when there would have been an Invocation. 


          For those of you who don’t know what an invocation is, let me explain:  traditionally, an invocation was a place in such public gatherings where the American public paused to acknowledge the Holy God of the universe, who, in time and space created this world and all that is in it. 


          An invocation included such things as prayers and petitions to the Almighty God for His blessing on the occasion, the guests and the graduating class.  It included expressions of gratitude to God for His hand of protection upon the students throughout their years of study which has brought them to this place; an expression of gratitude to God for the faculty and staff, their tireless work which has helped equip our graduates for entrance into the adult world of work or college. 


          An invocation included the expression of gratitude to God for the parents, grand parents and family members, all of whom have been used of God to assist these graduating seniors in their journey to this point in their lives.


          An invocation traditionally included asking the Almighty for His blessing on the graduates as they head into that world before them, and an expression of appreciation for all who are in attendance at this solemn ceremony. 


          An invocation traditionally ended by expressing to God that we acknowledge and affirm that our only basis upon which we dare to approach His Holiness is predicated upon our coming into His Presence in the Name of His Son Jesus Christ.  That prayer would traditionally have been closed with an “Amen,” meaning that we have ended our petition and prayers and praises to God.


          But, we can’t do that today, because of the laws of our nation which, for whatever reasons, have deemed that to somehow no longer be politically correct.  So we won’t have such an Invocation at these ceremonies.  Thank you. 


          And Larry started to sit down.


            As you may imagine, there was a thunderous, spontaneous, standing ovation of cheering, applause and tears as the entire student body, and guests in the stands immediately erupted into a loud and long ovation.


            I asked Larry if anybody had taken exception.  He smiled and said, “Not to my knowledge.”


Web posted:  May 7, 2002

Updated:  June 21, 2003

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