Graduation ... Oh, There's Drama

You might think that I, a theater teacher, would be a huge fan of the dramatic. And I am--in its proper place. I am not, however, a fan of manufactured drama, such as the sort that is currently occurring at Randomville High.

Though I am a Christian, I do know that there is a small number of students at our school who are uncomfortable with the overall religious environment at RHS. We are a public school; however, the majority of the faculty and students at the school are Christians. I personally see my faith as being a large part of myself, in that it has shaped my values, beliefs, and my personality; there is no way to dissect my faith from my BEING. I will talk about being a Christian when I am asked, but I do not tell my students to believe on the Lord Jesus Christ or they will burn in hell (I am a professional).

Two weeks ago, RHS was informed that the state ACLU had filed an injunction against us to keep our graduation ceremony prayer-free. This was at the instigation of four (4) students, one of whom I know quite well, two of whom I know tangentially, and one of whom I do not know at all. Four students in a class of over 200.

This did not go over well.

Randomville High has been all over the Metropolis local news for the past two weeks, though I don't know why this is such a big deal to them; the Met county and city schools haven't had prayer at their graduation ceremonies for years. I'd think this would be old hat to them. But ... no.

When I got to the school last night, there was a line of protesters holding signs outside the stadium. "PRAYER WORKS!" "OUR SCHOOLS NEED PRAYER!" they read. The news station was already there, interviewing anyone who walked past, it seemed.

As I walked into the school, I heard the band practicing. Not their music, but saying, "God bless you," in unison. Little knots of graduates were all over the sidewalk, huddled together and whispering, with covert glances at any authority figure in the vicinity. Something was definitely up.

The graduation program, for the first time in RHS history, did not have either an invocation or a benediction on the schedule. There was also no mention of lawsuits or civil liberties, no open thumb-nosing at those who dared to swim against the flow.

The ceremony began, and the graduates filed solemnly onto the football field while the band played "Pomp and Circumstance" five thousand consecutive times. Each graduate carried a program, and they all had small laminated cards in their hands. All but four.

The principal began his remarks. He spoke about how proud the graduates must be, and how proud their parents and teachers were of them. He said, "Without their support, many of you might not be standing where you are tonight," and he asked the students and the entire crowd to observe a moment of silence, to think about and reflect on what they, the graduates, had accomplished.

But there was no silence.

In unison, the graduates began to speak: "Our Father, who art in Heaven, hallowed be thy name ...." As they continued, their voices got louder, their enthusiasm stronger, and the crowd began to cheer. Soon the audience was on its feet, their shouts and exclamations drowning out the Lord's Prayer. The graduates themselves reacted, jumping up and down, shouting even louder so their own protest-to-the-protest could be heard.

The principal quieted them, and continued. He made no remarks and did not acknowledge that anything had been said.

The class president came onstage to give her speech. She began by thanking God for His gifts, for making it possible for her to graduate.

The class historian spoke about how their class, alone of all the classes that had gone before, had not lost any of its members to death. She thanked God that they had all reached graduation.

The class salutatorian spoke of how his faith in God had helped him throughout his high school years, and quoted a Bible verse about how the Lord encourages and inspires.

The class valedictorian spoke of how he knew that God had a plan for each of the graduates, how He would lead them and guide them, how He would love to know each of them personally.

The graduates came forward to get their diplomas. Each shook hands with the principal, and four of them made comments to him as they passed. One smiled and shook his hand eagerly; she was just happy to graduate. One snatched her diploma from his hand and stomped off the stage. One of them--the one I know--told him she would see him in court.

We made the news again. One reporter stated that the salutatorian had led the students in prayer, which he clearly did not do. Today, they were back, demanding our own raw footage of the ceremony (for ... what? I don't know.) A copy also went to the Random County Board of Ed. lawyer. (We believe in the CYA at RHS.) Further action is pending.


CaliforniaTeacherGuy said...

So, was your graduation ceremony (or will it be) prayer free?

Mei said...

The administration complied in every way.
The students took it upon themselves to pray during a moment of silence; it was not orchestrated by the school, nor did anyone know it was going to happen until it did happen.
In my opinion, the school cannot be held legally responsible for the students' actions.

KLG said...

It would seem that if the school gets sued for the actions of the students, then their First Amendment Rights to Freedom of Speech have been impinged, right? I get so tired of those type of legal actions - I want to respectfully suggest that those who don't want to be present when anything remotely Christian is mentioned, please to excercise their right to Freedom of Assembly and assemble themselves somewhere else!


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