Families and graduates gathered Saturday morning to share faith, music and prayer at the University’s annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Ceremony.
The annual spiritual event drew a crowd of more than 150 and included reflections from five graduating seniors and a keynote address by John Edward Hasse, curator of American Music for the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of American History.
Much of the ceremony was centered around music – with three student performances including “Father All Powerful,” a song written by well-known composer and jazz musician Dave Brubeck, an honorary degree recipient who attended the ceremony.
Graduating seniors Brandon Mansur, Mackenzie Drutowski, Vishal Aswani, Deena Elmaghrabi and Marc Friend all said their spiritual and religious journeys were made easier by the GW community’s willingness to embrace diversity.
“In the end, we’re all just humans,” Friend said, who spoke on behalf of the Jewish faith. “Our different backgrounds should not be a cause of conflict, but as I’ve learned should be an opportunity to learn more about ourselves.”
President Steven Knapp attended the ceremony and recognized the Class of 2010 for its commitment to service.
“You, the GW Class of 2010, have displayed imagination and compassion with energy and creativity that have truly distinguished your University in service,” Knapp said. “I express our thanks and admiration for all you’ve achieved.”
Knapp introduced keynote speaker Hasse, who shared the story of another famous jazz musician and composer – Duke Ellington.
“Linking jazz to religion may sound as incongruous as linking gambling to god,” Hasse said. “But Ellington has had a profound musical impact on many people and has also come to move people spiritually.”
The underlying message of Ellington’s life and music was tolerance of diversity, which Hasse said is an important message for students to take away from the GW experience.
“Imagine what a different world we’d have if all of our leaders recognized what Ellington and what I hope you students will always remember,” Hasse said. “That god has given each of us different gifts and he wants us all to not only respect each others differences, but to celebrate each one’s special gifts.”
For one graduating doctoral student, the ceremony was an opportunity to share with his parents the accepting culture of the University.
“You could make it out clearly that we all feel part of a bigger community,” Badri Shyam said, who is receiving a doctorate in chemistry. “A community of service and compassion regardless of your faith and religious background.”