On the evening of Tuesday, June 19, many La Cañada High School graduating seniors attended the first interfaith Baccalaureate service at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church.
In the past, services were a cooperative effort between Christian churches; however, this year services included a Hebrew scripture read by Christopher Vance of St. Bede, a scripture from the New Testament read by Abraham Frandsen of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and an Islamic scripture from the Holy Koran read by Ahmad Hussain and Ammar Moheize of the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge.
The keynote address came from speaker Shannon Oliver. He is a former Tuskegee University linebacker and joined the Peace Corps in 1998. Recently he has worked as a project manger for Catholic Relief Services in Pakistan. He spoke to the audience of privilege and responsibility.
“I was raised in a housing project in Alabama,” Oliver said.
He explained his background of growing up in one of the poorest areas of the United States where joined a gang with other boys.
“None of those friends are alive,” he said. “I grew up with five cousins. Two died and the others are in prison.”
Because of his background he said that he fell into a trap of blaming others for his situation.
“In America it is very easy to become a victim,” he said. “It’s easy to say ‘woe is me, I deserve something for nothing.’”
But then he learned about others in third-world countries and his life changed. He related stories of his travels from Iraq to Sierra Leon and how he has witnessed first hand the true hardships of suffering. He was blunt in his description of death, beatings and rapes that occur in these countries.
He told the seniors to understand their privilege and to realize the hardships of the world beyond La Cañada.
“I don’t want you to think that I am blasting people for their wealth,” he said.
Oliver said that he wanted the seniors to realize that with privilege comes responsibility.
“It is your responsibility to act,” he said.