By David Meade
Palmetto High graduating seniors and their families will have the opportunity to attend a Baccalaureate service in the Palmetto High School Auditorium next Sunday, May 25 at 6 p.m.
The annual event, which in the past has been organized by the school, is being hosted by New Hope Baptist Church, with help from other local churches. Baccalaureate is a celebration which honors a graduating senior class in the days preceding graduation.
Speakers are usually community leaders or faculty members, students or local religious leaders and there is often participation from the graduating class.
Speeches are often intermixed with musical performances and worship.
That is where Anderson School District One officials were faced with a decision that led to some controversey and backlash in the Palmetto community.
District officials decided that the schools would not organize the service this year. Instead local churches would be offered the opportunity.
School Superintendent David Havird said he made the decision based on legal advice and the possibility of a lawsuit if the schools continued the long standing practice of organizing the annual event.
New Hope Baptist Church Reverend Robert Parris said he volunteered his church to host the event after hearing just over a month ago that there might not be a baccalaureate program for Palmetto seniors unless a local church did it.
As word spread in the community that there would not be a baccalaureate service at Palmetto this year, it became the hot topic on local social media.
Parris said due to the community concern and misinformation, New Hope Baptist Church hosted a meeting in which the commuunity was invited to hear directly from the District One Superintendent about the decision.
Approximately 350 people attended the meeting, including pastors from many area churches.
Parris said after hearing the superintendent’s explanation, “There was a whole lot better understanding, and the decision was more or less preemptive.”
Parris said the district was “one of the last districts with the school organizing the baccacalaureate service and it was only a matter of time before there was a lawsuit.”
“It was a decision made almost a year ago,” he said, “but was not communicated to the community very well.”
Parris said he made an “executive decision” and told his congregation, “We will do it.”
“They are very supportive and would have loved to have it here at the church,” Parris said. “In the future it probably will be.”
After meeting with several local church leaders, Parris said the consensus was to have the service at the high school.
He said the rent “was not a big deal” and “the school was very cooperative.”
Parris said his congregation was very supportive and many area churches wanted to be involved.
Parris said the baccalaureate program will be interdenominational.
One good thing to come out of the controversey associated with the issue was that local churches came together to find a solution.
“It is also really good that we are working together between the denominations,” he said.
Another positive is the option to be able to have the service at the school, Parris said, “because some churches in the community may want to host it but don’t have the facilities.”
Parris said organizers for this year’s baccalaureate service for Palmetto High seniors are planning a few things differently.
One is having a really nice reception for graduates and family members following the service. Several area churches are helping with the reception.
Other highlights include planning to show a senior video and having the student praise band from Whitefield Baptist Church playing before the service.
Organizers are in the process of contacting members of the Palmetto High Class of 2014 to participate in the program, he said.
This year, all three Baccalaureate services for Anderson School District One seniors will be held on the same day, May 25, with local churches sponsoring or hosting the event for each school.
Additional information on Baccalaureate services will be published next week in The Journal.
The Journal will publish a Salute to Area Graduates May 28 which will include graduating class photos, list of graduates, honor graduates and other information.
Palmetto, Wren, and this year Powdersville will be included. Woodmont graduation information will be in the June 4 issue.