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Interfaith community celebrates how faith has shaped GW experience

Reverend Laura Cunningham speaks at the interfaith service at the Western Presbyterian Church. Anne McBride | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Reverend Laura Cunningham speaks at the interfaith service at the Western Presbyterian Church. Anne McBride | Hatchet Staff Photographer
Graduates, faculty, families and friends gathered at the Interfaith Baccalaureate Service Saturday at the Western Presbyterian Church to speak about how faith has shaped their GW experience.

Reverend Laura Cunningham, the pastor at the Western Presbyterian church, opened the ceremony by welcoming the GW community and expressing her gratitude for the close relationship the church has maintained with GW.

“In our 160 years of service this is a church that has been excited by any connections to GW, to the point that I am a little surprised that one of these banners doesn’t say ‘Go colonials,’ “ Cunningham said.

1. Thanking faith

Chaplain Meraj Allahrakha, the community adviser of the GW Muslim Student Association who received his master’s from GW in 2010, thanked God for all those involved in helping the graduates pursue their education and maintain their faith in college.

“Oh God we thank you and remember you for allowing us to wake up at 8AM get to those classes,” Allahrakha said. “We thank you for all the friends that you have allowed for us to meet here on this journey for they are supports and pillars in this sink hole of faith that sometimes we refer to as college.”

Reverend Adam Park, the chaplain at the Newman Student Center, said the achievements of the graduates are a great reason to celebrate and that although the process was not always easy, it makes graduation even more significant.

“We celebrate these achievements because we recognize that it wasn’t always an easy process there were some trying moments to endure but it is precisely because of those moments that make this occasion today even more special,” Park said.

2. Finding yourself

Student speaker Elina Mir, the vice president of the Muslim Student Association, said that when she first came to GW she had no desire to outwardly express her faith. She said her high school lacked diversity and treated her badly for her Muslim faith.

“Because of my experience I came to college not wanting to be open about my muslim identity,” Mir said. “I am thankful for everyone at GW for creating an atmosphere of tolerance.”

Mir said that finally getting involved with the Muslim Student Association and the GW community helped her grow and be more open about her faith.

Student speaker Thomas Pacer, a member of GW Catholics, said he was a transfer student from a small Catholic university and that when he came to GW it was the “polar opposite.” He said when it was tough for him to make friends and succeed at GW’s NROTC program, it was hope and faith that got him through.

“Hope requires trust,” Pacer said. “This choice to trust and hope is what allows us to realize the true joy found in faith. Such faith gave me the hope that even in hard times I was surrounded by immeasurable goodness.”

Student speaker Hannah Schaeffer, a member of the Jewish Students Association, said graduation reminded her of her bat mitzvah. She said that both crucial times in her life have made her think about herself and her faith.

“To grapple with who you are and what you believe in is a powerful exercise and very quickly became a reoccurring theme over my years at GW,” Schaeffer said.

3. Finding your light

Student speaker Laura Porter, a member of GW SPEAK, said she never imagined standing in front of this audience today. She said Saturday is her 2,087th day at GW and that another important number to her is 1,291, the number of days she has lived in sobriety.

“Always remember the light from knowing that you are and always will be a part of a community,” Porter said. “A community of friends, mentors, and teachers, a community that shines so bright it could be only at GW.”

Student speaker Michael Massaroli said that when he was six years old, he lost his father in the 9/11 terrorist attacks and that when the community came to support his family, he knew he wanted to give back. He said the greatest thing he has learned at GW is how to devote himself to helping others.

“I knew that I wanted to devote my life to giving back to the communities that were so selfless in supporting our family in this time of tragedy,” Massaroli said. “I have seen so many things from so many people at GW that will make me an immeasurable better man than I was before I started college.”

4. An accepting community

Student speaker Andie Dowd, former president of the Student Association, said that she learned from her time at GW the importance of the freedom and right to practice any religion one chooses.

“I owe so much of my experience to those who have welcomed me into the GW community with open arms,” Dowd said.

University President Steven Knapp concluded the ceremony by praising the profound impact that student leaders have on the GW community. He said the religious community has a unique identity and open spirit.

“I express our thanks and admiration for what you and the Class of 2016 have achieved,” Knapp said. “I pray that the power of imagination and the spirit of compassion that have guided you through your four years with us will never leave you but will continue to shape your lives.”

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