Baccalaureate aims to be more inclusive of all religions

Sammy Caiola

So what happens when a rabbi, a priest and a Muslim chaplain walk into Pick-Staiger Concert Hall?

A revamped and more inclusive baccalaureate ceremony.

The baccalaureate ceremony is a traditionally Christian service that has been held at Northwestern since the first commencement, University Chaplain Tim Stevens said. Though it has historically been held in the Alice Millar Chapel and Religious Center, the ceremony will be held in Pick-Staiger this year in an effort to make it more inclusive of all religions.

Stevens estimates that with students, parents and faculty, there should be about 1,000 people at the ceremony, which will take place 4 p.m. on June 16th.

At the ceremony, University President Morton Schapiro will give a speech, Rabbi Josh Feigelson will do the invocation and Muslim chaplain Tahera Ahmad will do the benediction. Additionally, students of various faiths will read an excerpt they have chosen from their respective sacred texts.

“I think that what we have tried to do is have elements in the ceremony from a whole range of different faiths,” Stevens said. “They’re hearing their own texts but also each others’, and that really draws everyone together and says we certainly have differences, but we also have a lot in common.”

Though the ceremony has incorporated some interfaith elements for the past 15 years, this is the first year it will be held in a non-denominational space and will involve a Muslim chaplain, Stevens said. Because there will not be a pipe organ, Stevens said the music will be played by string and brass ensembles.

While planning the ceremony, the chaplain’s office recruited the student leaders of various religious organizations to serve on a baccalaureate planning committee. One of their suggestions was that two students of different faiths deliver a speech that reflects on their religious experience at NU. The chaplain’s office has received applications and will be announcing the speakers shortly, Stevens said.

Noreen Nasir, a Medill senior and former president of Muslim-cultural Students Association , served on the committee and said she is happy about the changes.

“I think it’s important to keep the ceremony inclusive because here at Northwestern a lot of us come from different backgrounds and different faiths, and it’s important to honor that and make sure no one is left out in doing so,” Nasir said.

She also said having the ceremony in Pick-Staiger will make it more accessible for people who might not be comfortable attending a service in a church.

Father John Kartje said conducting a baccalaureate service means asking for God’s blessing upon the students and the University. He said although no one ceremony can fully honor the traditions of every faith, he believes an inclusive ceremony is a step in the right direction.

“I think that’s a way of letting students know as well as faculty that all different faith traditions are represented and really substantively acknowledging that if there is a God that transcends all different cultures and religions,” Kartje said.

Schapiro said in a recent interview with The Daily that he is glad this year’s ceremony will be inclusive.

“I was not overjoyed to see that there different versions of baccalaureate that we’ve done before that were separate,” he said. “We’re going to really celebrate faith the day before graduation.”

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