Seated in a center-aisle pew at St. Bede on Tuesday night, attending the interfaith high school baccalaureate service at the invitation of its organizers, I'm struck by how tender-hearted while, at the same time, forthcoming the youthful participants seem to be.
There are songs, prayers, an engaging keynote speaker and scripture readings. Graduating seniors Rebecca Burten, Zaki Khan, Sarah Olson, Maren Owen and Megan Wammack, all dressed in the caps and gowns they would also wear the next night during their commencement exercises, take turns giving testimonies about their respective faiths.
A Jew, a Muslim, a Presbyterian, a Mormon and a Catholic, they each speak of the gratefulness they feel for the support and religious foundation they have been given. They also very refreshingly admit they are filled with questions and look forward to learning more about their faiths at the same time that they are moving on with their lives, gaining insights about the rest of the world.
There is a respectful air in the church, as the attending youths — about a quarter of the La Cañada High Class of 2012, plus a couple of teens graduating from Crescenta Valley High — gather with their families to celebrate the closure of their high school years. There is genuine warmth, too. All the speakers are applauded by an appreciative crowd.
A conversation that took place just before the Fiesta Days fireworks show a couple of weeks ago comes to my mind. A woman seated at the table with us that night, who works here but lives in another city, told us she's been very impressed by the teenagers she's met here. She's had many interactions with La Cañada students over the past 18 months or so, and she said she's found the kids in our city to be unusually polite and helpful, more so than she's encountered elsewhere.
I just nodded my head and smiled, because I couldn't really speak about the conduct or attitudes of teenagers from other communities. I've lived and worked here for so long that I have no point of reference. While her comments filled me with a bit of hometown pride, the cynic in me left me slightly skeptical. Really? Our well-heeled kids, many of them the offspring of Type A personalities, are out-of-the-ordinary in terms of niceness?
It was, I think, the first time I'd ever heard any superlative about our teens that didn't involve a recounting of personal achievements, exceptional talents or academic excellence — the resume-building stuff that helps our kids get into the most hallowed of academic halls across the nation. Isn't it wonderful to hear from a non-resident that, as a group, they are also well-grounded and pleasant to be around? Those qualities, while not found on resumes, are key to a person's success.
Closing remarks and a prayer are offered at the baccalaureate; the high school seniors walk past us in the recessional. I aim a smile in their direction as they march out. Many of them grin back, eyes meeting mine.
I know none of this year's crop of local grads personally, but am assured they will represent us well wherever they go. Isn't that good to know?
CAROL CORMACI is managing editor. Email her at firstname.lastname@example.org.