Baccalaureate: Reflecting on the Graduating Class

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On May 27 at 2 p.m., members of the class of 2018 will sit in front of a podium in Bell Tower Park to celebrate the closing of an important chapter in their lives. By 9 p.m., they will be official alumni of Mariemont High School.

These past four years of their lives have been filled with laughter, love, good days, and bad days. They have shed tears and pulled “all-nighters” to study or write papers. They may have some regrets and mistakes, yet they also have fond m

Oscar Escobar and Tiffiny Tudor perform a musical piece at the 2009 baccalaureate (photo from Mariemont Legacy website)

emories of time spent with their friends. They have experienced hope, disappointment, confusion, and curiosity while walking the hallways of Mariemont High School every day for four years from 7:45 a.m. to 2:52 p.m.

First, it’s time to stop, appreciate the moment, and reflect on who they have become, what they’ve learned, and where they’re going in a ceremony called baccalaureate.

Baccalaureate celebrates and recognizes the achievements of a graduating class and touches on future possibilities. Historically, a baccalaureate ceremony was a religious ceremony for graduates, run by the local church or religious sector.

In 1953, the University of Cincinnati, a public institution, held a religious baccalaureate service at the Clifton United Methodist Church. According to an article in the Cincinnati Enquirer, the event included an invocation, scripture reading, and benediction.

The first graduating class from Plainville High School, in 1940, held a religious baccalaureate service in the auditorium containing a variety of scripture readings, sermons, music, an invocation, and a benediction, similar to the traditional format of the time that the University of Cincinnati used.

The baccalaureate celebration in public institutions has become more secular since the 1950s. According to an article from The Spruce by Jackie Burrell, “the baccalaureate has evolved into a quieter, more reflective event that focuses on students’ personal growth and achievement.

Parents, friends and community members watch Mariemont seniors from the class of 2016 perform a song (photo from Mariemont Schools online photo gallery)

With the weight of worry about grades, college admissions, job searches and more lifted for most participants, relief and pride mix to create a lovely experience for everyone involved.”

Through the years, the Mariemont (formerly Plainville) School District reflects this trend, moving away from religion, and towards a reflective gathering put on by the senior class. “It’s an opportunity for the students to perform for their peers and community,” said current Mariemont High School principal, Dr. James Renner.

In more recent years, Mariemont’s celebration has transitioned into a student-led event located at the Bell Tower Park, a public location in the district. This tradition includes seniors, families, and community members gathering at the Bell Tower on the afternoon of graduation to commemorate the graduating class’ talents, achievements, personal growth, and plans for the future.

Audrey Helmrich, a 2014 graduate, enjoyed attending and participating in her class’s ceremony. “It was nice to watch other people perform since there was that sense of community being with your graduating class. Plus you have friends and family watching so that even broadens that feeling of community and collectivism,” she said.

Will Weston, president of the class of 2018, is looking forward this year’s event. “I think baccalaureate is a great way for students to express their talents,” he said.

Each year, the class president chooses a guest speaker for the event. The speaker gives the graduating class advice heading into a new chapter in their lives. Terri Thomas, current health and wellness teacher at the high school, was chosen to speak at the baccalaureate for the class of 2016.

Baccalaureate program from the first graduating class (1940) of “Plainville High School,” which is now the Mariemont Elementary School building on Wooster Pike. (Image courtesy of Mariemont Preservation Foundation.)

“I was honored and excited to be asked by Noah Dill to speak. The premise of my message was for each graduate to use their time, talent, and treasure to help others, and in that, you truly help yourself,” Thomas recounts in an email interview. “Every person you meet in life has something to share with you that changes you, hopefully for the better. We share with each other to improve life.”

Baccalaureate is a final goodbye for the senior class; a final chance to recognize their peers and reflect on their thoughts on the afternoon before the finality of graduation.

“It’s a place for the seniors to showcase their talents thoughts and passions on a day that’s important in their lives,” said senior class advisor and high school math teacher, Julie Bell. “It’s nice for kids and parents to gather socially one more time before graduation.”

Mariemont choral director, Liz McGahey, helps students who perform musical pieces at baccalaureate. “I often help rehearse their songs with them, help with tuning, harmony, musicality, putting it with the accompaniment.”

“I love baccalaureate and love seeing the culmination of talent in these bright shining stars that are about to go off into the world. The performances that always stick with me the most are the ones that choose songs and topics that really speak to the occasion and the journey,” McGahey said in an email interview.

For graduates of 2018, plans to participate in the ceremony should be submitted to Mrs. Bell before May 16th.

Attendance at baccalaureate is optional for students, and open to the public. This year, it will be held on May 27 at 2 p.m. at the Bell Tower Park, 3725 Pleasant Street. Graduation will follow in the evening at 7 p.m. at Kusel Stadium.