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Speakers remind graduates to rely on their faith at Interfaith Baccalaureate Service

Graduating senior Ethan Kelley speaks to the congregation about his religious experience as a catholic at GW. Jack Fonseca | Contributing Photo Editor
Graduating senior Ethan Kelley talks about his religious experience as a Catholic at GW.

Updated: May 18, 2019 at 3:38 p.m.

About 100 family members and friends of graduates attended the annual Interfaith Baccalaureate Service Saturday to reflect on how faith has played a role in their lives.

The ceremony, which was held at the Western Presbyterian Church, included musical performances by graduates, group meditation and remarks from student speakers representing different faith traditions. Kate Brittain, an elder at Western Presbyterian Church, and Ashley Le, the former president of the Student Association, gave opening remarks and introduced speakers.

In case you missed the celebration, here are some takeaways from the speakers:

1. The golden rule
Hillel Zand, a graduate and former president of the Jewish Student Association, relayed a story to graduates about a gentile who asked a Jewish sage to explain the entire Torah to him while standing on one foot.

Zand said Hillel responded, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow person. This is the whole Torah. The rest is commentary.” He added that the story illustrates how faith is a “complex idea, but we need not make it so complex.”

Zand said the spirit of Hillel’s answer lives on in the “golden rule” – treat others the way you want to be treated – which he said students are taught before kindergarten.

“In our world today, faith is weaponized far too often,” he said. “But that’s just the commentary, the tumultuous distraction that Hillel warned. I am confident that the world will continue to be repaired if each of us upon our graduation from GW simply treats our fellow human beings the way they want to be treated.”

2. Interfaith solidarity at GW
Ethan Kelley, a graduating student and Catholic, said we live in “a messy and violent world” where religious people are persecuted all over the world. He added that it is “fortunate” that faith groups at GW come together and engage with each other.

“It’s at one of the most engaging campuses where we find the intersection of international and national issues, that it becomes impossible to ignore,” Kelley said. “But amazingly when there is so much wrong, I also see so much that is right.”

Kelley said during his time at GW he has seen students and staff build an interfaith meditation space, engage in interfaith dialogue and gather together to remember victims of religious persecution and violence.

“Here at GW, we have been given an amazing gift: that of harmony of others,” he said. “I am forever greatful for my faith experience here because where there is hatred, GW students have learned to show love.”

3. Find the force that guides your moral compass
Elliott School of International Affairs Dean Reuben Brigety, an elder at Western Presbyterian Church, reminded graduates not to define themselves by external achievements like glowing praise or a high salary.

“By themselves, nothing is wrong with them, but none of them is enough to define the divine purpose of your life,” he said.

Brigety said that when students ask him for career advice, he always tells them to “see to their character” and “be in touch with whatever force guides your moral compass.” He said that he tells students that when “times are dark,” it will be that force that will be their “guiding light.”

“Know that your identity is not the sum total of your achievements,” he said. “Your soul is not the reflection of your degrees. Look for something deeper in which to anchor yourself as you set off into the world.”

Like these photos? You can purchase your personal photo from this graduation ceremony online at:

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