About 100 faculty, graduates and families gathered for the Undergraduate Interfaith Baccalaureate Service at the Western Presbyterian Church Saturday morning to reflect on how faith has shaped their lives.
The ceremony included group prayer and musical performances from graduates and introductions from Reverend Lauren Cunningham, the pastor of the Western Presbyterian Church, University President Thomas LeBlanc and former Student Association President Peak Sen Chua.
Here’s some advice from the speakers:
1. Remember your truths
Chaplain Meraj Allahrakha, a professor of economics and adviser to the GW Muslim Student Association, said it is despair and hardship that can lead someone away from their faith. He said “temptations come in many flavors” and students must always remember their own truths.
“One of the biggest temptations that students feel is that they have to sacrifice their ideals, they have to sacrifice their truths and their morals when they leave this institution and go out into the workforce,” Allahrakha said. “That’s just not true.”
2. Rely on your faith
Elliott School of International Affairs Dean Reuben Brigety, an elder at Western Presbyterian Church, reminded students they have gone through a series of “hurdles” in their lives, and will likely go through many more, but they should return to their faith when making difficult choices.
“Be in touch with whatever force guides your moral compass,” Brigety said. “Because when times are dark – and they will be – it will be that guiding force that will be your light.”
Brigety said that as students graduate from GW, they should feel “rightly proud” of their success but “your identity is not the sum total of your achievements.” He urged students to aim toward a higher purpose.
“Look for something deeper in which to anchor yourself as you set off into the world,” he said.
3. Find your spark
Student speaker Jenna Friedberg, the former president of the Jewish Student Association, who obtained her master’s degree in American Studies Friday, said since finishing her undergraduate degree, she has moved, made new friends and lost touch with old ones. She said as she prepares to graduate, she finds herself no longer a student – which she has been her entire life – and is not sure what lies ahead.
“The beauty of humanity is that we all start at zero and make of ourselves what we are,” Friedberg said.
Friedberg closed her speech with a line from this week’s Torah reading: “As God sees it, the soul of the man is a spark of his own fire.” She told graduates to find their own spark and never stop searching for their potential.
“What you make of yourself influences what we make of the world,” she said.
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