Seniors aren't likely to skip their high school graduation ceremonies, but baccalaureate programs are part of the celebration, too.
The Christian-based services are designed to send off graduates with prayers and God's blessing.
The Hollidaysburg Ministerium will spice things up for the baccalaureate program by handing over control to graduating seniors.
(Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski)
Lindsie Hammaker (left), a senior at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School, and Anna Podoletz, a junior, practice music they will perform at the baccalaureate service
In the past, the program has been organized by the area's clergy with about 40 families in attendance.
"No one even knows what it is," said Hollidaysburg High School senior Martha Klingbeil, who is involved with planning the program.
Susan Yatta, pastor of First English Lutheran Church in Tyrone said attendance at the high school baccalaureate programs varies from year to year, but involving students is a must.
"We always involve any seniors who want to be a part of the planning," she said.
At this year's baccalaureate, Tyrone High School seniors will read Scripture passages, lead prayers and perform musical selections. Area pastors met with high school class officers and the class to keep them up-to-date about the service.
"It's geared toward them. It is indeed a religious service, but it's meant to be a send-off and support for them. It's not about us. It's nondenominational," Yatta said. "This is such an important milestone for a young person and the world is such an exciting, but difficult, place. It's a nice reminder that God is with them as they move on to new adventures."
At Hollidaysburg, contemporary music, a student-led service and a time capsule are planned to attract more students and community members to the 7 p.m. service June 5 at Hollidaysburg Area Senior High School auditorium.
"Although the event is held at the school, teachers and staff usually don't attend because of the 'sensitivities about the separation of church and state,'" said Chuck Monts, president of the Hollidaysburg Ministerium.
This year, however, Cathy Breisacher, senior class advisor and guidance counselor, will read Scripture passages.
Monts, who is also pastor of First Presbyterian Church of Hollidaysburg is organizing the service for the first time.
"We're hoping more kids come because of some of the changes that are happening. Over the years, the numbers have been going down a little bit," he said.
Seniors Ethan Eldred, Lindsie Hammaker, Martha Klingbeil and Michelle Stoltz are organizing a baccalaureate to remember.
"The great thing this year is that it's more student-run. For I don't know how many years it was clergy-centric. The clergy planned it and ran it. It ended up being the same format and the same Scripture and the same deal over and over. Chuck said enough and got a student committee to get something different going. We're hoping more kids come," Ethan said.
"We have a lot more students performing and involved," said
Martha, who will sing and play an instrument.
Before the service, graduates will be invited to place items in a time capsule, which will be sealed in a vault and possibly opened at a class reunion.
"Seniors are invited to bring pictures or poems they've written. That's a way that everybody can contribute," Monts said. "Then, we're hoping they stick around for the service."
Ethan, who belongs to Hollidaysburg Church of the Brethren, leads praise and worship bands and has organized a band for the service. He sings and plays guitar and piano. "This is something I do often, so I was comfortable with it," he said.
The service is expected to have a "come as you are," feel, Ethan said.
Baccalaureate aims to celebrate every graduate, even those who are not continuing their education or taking a job.
"It's a way, that at the last minute, people can find some inspiration or hope or something that they're looking for. If they don't know where they're going, this is something that will reassure them," Ethan said.
The service is free, but seniors are asking people who attend to donate new or gently used shoes for the Soles4Souls program. The organization collects shoes for people in need around the world. (More information about the nonprofit organization can be found by visiting www.soles4souls.org.)
"We're going to collect them as our offering," Ethan said. "This is just going to be a great celebration."