Guest Column: Baccalaureate service brings faiths together

The sixth annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Service, a religious service for graduating high school seniors, will take place at 7 p.m. Tuesday, June 12, at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church in La Cañada. All high school graduating seniors in the area are welcome to attend and need to arrive at 6:30 p.m. for a baccalaureate orientation assembly.

E pluribus unum, the Latin for “Out of many, one”, is an American motto incorporated in the Seal of the United States in 1776. This represents one underpinning of this annual Interfaith event, a religious service for graduating seniors of diverse faith traditions sponsored by the La Cañada Flintridge Ecumenical Ministerial Assn.

We can all learn from our younger generation of high school graduates who are not tainted with elements of bigotry toward other religions. Their natural friendships with each other represent the neighborly love taught by all major faiths, as evidenced by the newly formed La Cañada High School Coexist club.

The annual event is a natural place where civic and religious values happily coexist since our public school system cannot, by law, host such an event. The service is a shining example of inclusion and openness. In the past, the annual service was a cooperative effort planned by local Christian faith groups. Since La Cañada Muslims became more known in the community, the Baccalaureate Service planning team proactively reached out to additional faith groups, including the La Cañada Muslims and Jewish communities.

In 2007, their efforts resulted in a beautiful service conducted at St. Bede the Venerable Catholic Church where prayers and scriptures were read from the religions of Judaism, Islam and Christianity. The event became an Interfaith Baccalaureate service, not out of some trendy notion of diversity, but based on values deeply rooted in American and religious traditions.

The interfaith dimensions of the baccalaureate service put into action the Christian principle of “love thy neighbor.” All the Christian members of the Interfaith Baccalaureate Service Planning Team relished the opportunity for inclusiveness through an interfaith prayer service.

As the Muslim representative on the team, I could not have imagined a better neighborly interfaith collaboration. In fact, I believe it highlighted the beauty of each faith and our common core values as Americans. Getting to know and being kind to your neighbors is an Islamic mandate as well, “O Mankind, God has created you from a single pair of a male and a female and made you into nations and tribes, that you may know each other. Verily the most honored of you in the sight of God is the one who is the most righteous of you.” Koran (chapter 49, verse 13)

LEVENT AKBARUT leads the Islamic Congregation of La Cañada Flintridge. He can be reached at

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