Redesigned baccalaureate ceremony includes more religions

Alexandria Johnson

Last Thursday, Pick-Staiger Concert Hall hosted its first baccalaureate ceremony, featuring one of the most inclusive religious services in the past 15 years since the traditional graduation service transitioned to a more interfaith program.

“This year we thought maybe we’d get increased participation if we move it out of the chapel,” University Chaplain Timothy Stevens said. “It felt like it was more diverse, and so I think it was a good decision to move it to Pick-Staiger.”

With readings, performances, speeches and prayers from students of the Christian, Hindu, Jewish and Muslim faiths plus banners displayed representing the principal faiths of Buddhism and Bahá-í as well, the new venue welcomed diverse performers and audience members.

“I thought it was great. We had lots of great student participation and really good music,” Stevens said. “Everything flowed together really well, and I was pleased with it. It was a lot of work to make the transition, but I think it was a really good move.”

Since baccalaureate services were typically held in Alice Millar Chapel and Religious Center, the planning committee had to make adjustments to the ceremony, such as compensating for the lack of an organ in Pick-Staiger with the baccalaureate choir and string orchestra, creating a new experience for the attendees at the ceremony.

“I’m just happy to be here. It’s beautiful,” said NU parent Hannah Elsiddig, whose daughter, Communication graduating senior Yomna Elsiddig, spoke during the ceremony. “I had two other kids here, but this (ceremony) is special.”

Also new this year was the call to prayer ritual that involved Buddhist, Christian and Muslim students and a Tibetan singing bowl to start off the service, which Stevens and his student planning committee decided to add to the ceremony.

“I’m confident that we’ll continue to have new ideas and try new things,” Stevens said.

To reach out to different faiths and cultures, aside from the readings and speeches, the choir performed the South African folk song “Lilizela” and Psalm 23, sung in Korean by Bienen graduating senior Justin Kim.

“Hopefully there will be inspiration for all religions,” said Stephanie Files, who traveled from North Carolina to see her nephew, graduating senior Jeremiah Tillman.

The service included speeches by University President Morton Schapiro, Rabbi Josh Feigelson, Stevens and Associate University Chaplain Tahera Ahmad. Student participants collaborated with these leaders to choose appropriate and meaningful passages and stories to share.

“I worked together with Rabbi Feigelson,” Weinberg graduating senior Corinne Bernstein said. “We wanted to do a passage that related to graduation and moving on but also remember what we have here.”

Bernstein read from the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Berachot 17a.

For the audience members, the baccalaureate service also provided an opportunity to reflect upon past years spent at NU and celebrate the graduation ceremony Friday.

“It’s hard to believe the time went so fast. It’s been a great experience here,” said Donna Chappatta, mother of Medill graduating senior and former Daily staffer Brian Chappatta.

Stevens said he anticipates the ceremony will continue to be held at Pick-Staiger and that he hopes to continue planning ahead and working to increase participation in the event.

“I think we want to get the word out that is really a kind of spiritual and religious celebration that welcomes people of all faith traditions and that we can come together at the time of commencement and celebrate together and give thanks together,” Stevens said.

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