Our back page lead story last Friday reported an elaborate program for the 97th Commencement Convocation of the University of Liberia (UL). But there was one very important thing missing: no Baccalaureate Service. This has not happened in recent memory.
Let us begin by asking a question that many may seem totally unnecessary: Why a baccalaureate? A baccalaureate is a service for a graduating class, at which a sermon is delivered to offer spiritual guidance to the graduates as they step out into life. It is necessary because they need spiritual guidance as they embark upon an uncharted (new, unknown) path of life. Emmet Dennis, the son of an Episcopal priest, definitely knows this because there was a baccalaureate service when he graduated in 1957 from
St. John’s Mission in Cape Mount and another upon his graduation from Cuttington College and Divinity School (now Cuttington University) in 1961. Most academic institutions throughout the world, especially in Christian nations, have always kicked off their commencement activities with a Baccalaureate Service.
As they complete years of intense, persistent and rigorous academic toil, a Baccalaureate Service affords the prospective graduates spiritual reflection on why they have been educated and what will be expected of them as they enter what the eminent American poet Henry Wardsworth Longfellow, in his poem, A Psalm of Life, called “this bivouac (mountain climb) of life.”
This life, our dear people, especially those just about to enter it, is fraught with dangers, difficulties, hardship, disappointments and frustrations over which one’s academic preparation may not be all that is needed to overcome. Graduates need Biblical or Koranic reflections as they enter this new terrain, “The School of Life.”
It is a School in which you will soon find that all you have learned or done may not be enough to carry you through. You need something else to direct, encourage, guide and protect you! That something else is Almighty God, who has the capacity to encourage, inspire, guide and protect and carry you through as one application after another is rejected. Or, as soon as you get the job, often even BEFORE, you are called to stoop—to what? to evil—to some administrator who tells you that you must do this or that or the other BEFORE he or she can employ you.
You will ask yourself whether all your years of suffering and toil, of burning the midnight oil, have been an exercise in futility – for there are other things that may seem to assure you of success in life. And these “other things” confronting you as you embark upon a fresh start in life are evil.
Good? NO! For if you succumb (submit, surrender) to these, you will end up like that—haplessly pursuing a life of evil, despair, misery, failure.
That is why all students or prospective graduates need someone—a priest, an imam, a bishop—to tell them about God or Allah, His almighty power, His infinite (boundless, never-ending) capacity, love, mercy, power to lead, guide, help and protect you through ALL circumstances of life, including the most desperate, the most humiliating, the most evil of them all!
Remember the Christian hymn:
“The world is very evil,
The times are waxing late;
Be sober and keep vigil,
The Judge is at the gate;
The Judge that comes with mercy,
The Judge that comes with might
To put an end to evil,
To diadem (crown, uphold) the right.”
Remember, too, UL’s 1981 Baccalaureate Service at the Centennial Pavilion, when UL President Dr. Mary Antoinette Brown Sherman invited Fr. Christopher Kandakai, a retired Episcopal priest, to preach.
He told the Graduating Class, “Be prepared to say ‘No’ when, on your job or elsewhere, you are called to say or do the wrong thing—something evil.”
The Daily Observer the following Monday morning carried as its front page headline, “Be Prepared to Say No!—Fr. Kandakai Tells UL Graduates.”
Who remembers, or, were you too young or yet unborn, to imagine what else happened that morning?
A siren-blasting Security jeep stormed Fr. Kandakai’s Gardnersville home and whisked him off, at breakneck speed, to the Executive Mansion. There in the Head of State’s fourth floor office, Fr. Kandakai met an angry Samuel K. Doe, who strongly warned him, “The next time you preach a sermon like that, I will have you arrested and locked up in the Post Stockade!”
That same week one of Samuel Doe’s devotees, John Manston, wrote a letter to the Daily Observer castigating the newspaper for carrying Monday’s lead story. Manston then told the newspaper’s readers, “Sometimes in life, 2 plus 2 can make 3 or 5, and all graduates need to know that.”
The Daily Observer wrote a stinging Editorial against Manston’s attempt to corrupt the UL graduates and Liberian youth.
Have we made our point about the importance of a Baccalaureate Service?
Should you be not yet convinced, just think of what happened to that Doe regime that consistently and vigorously believed that the word of God was unimportant, and went on, through the regime’s massive corruption and mismanagement, to put into practice John Manston’s mathematics, “2 plus 2 makes 3 or 5.”
The answer: Ten years of terror that led the country to civil war, death and destruction that affected ALL of us, including Doe and John Manston!
We call on Dr. Emmett Dennis, UL President, to organize a Baccalaureate Service this coming Sunday and cancel out this most unfortunate and dangerous historical precedence.