Graduation Ceremonies: You CAN Thank God

Graduation caps tossed in victory. Courtesy Shillad Sen – Flickr

Seth Clark was about to graduate. A young man, 13 years old, Seth was salutatorian of his grade school class in Akin, Illinois. Hours, just hours, before his graduation he was told he wouldn’t be able to deliver his graduation speech because it was too religious.

Seth Clark was proud of the part God played in his life. His remarks referenced Bible passages and talked about his faith. Someone identified only as “a local citizen” in the Benton Evening News complained. How that person obtained a copy of Seth’s speech in advance was not explained in the article.

The Superintendent of Schools, Kelly Clark, issued a statement that read in part: “While students are welcome to pray or pursue their faith without disrupting school or infringing upon the rights of others, the United States Constitution prohibits the school district from incorporating such activities as part of school-sponsored events, and when the context causes a captive audience to listen or compels other students to participate.”

Word got around. The people of Akin were not happy. A neighbor of the Clark family owned a house that was just across from Seth’s school. He saw no reason anyone could object to Seth delivering his speech from its front yard. And he was right. “When it came time for the valedictorian and the salutatorian to deliver their speeches,” said Seth’s mother Becky, “they invited the audience to join them across the street at the house. It was not mandatory.”

Can you guess what happened? Yep, after the ceremony at least half of the attendees marched over and gathered in the front yard to hear Seth. Seth Clark was able to give his speech and praise God. The neighbor was able to help that happen. Family and friends rejoiced and supported Seth and the neighbor. The Superintendent of Schools fulfilled what she saw as her obligation under the law. The complaining local citizen was appeased and simultaneously conquered—by actions of others, and without a law suit.

Where there’s a will, there’s a way.