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Photo caption: RMC Baccalaureate Service 2013 [credit Dave M. Shumway]

2013 BaccalaureateBaccalaureate Celebrates Experience and Transitions

BILLINGS, April 29, 2014 – Many liberal arts colleges have a tradition the day before commencement that helps new graduates relax and remember the beauty and blessings of their education. RMC has held its baccalaureate service for decades. Many of RMC graduates are from Montana small towns and others are from faraway states and countries, but all seem to appreciate the reflection of their process of humble growth in a traditional service the night before they become alumni.

Below is a student’s description of the baccalaureate service’s hopes and goals. The article below appeared in the last RMC Summit student newspaper of April 22 and is shared with permission of its writer, Emily (Emma) King (’15). 

Baccalaureate Celebrates Experience and Transitions 
by Emma King (RMC ’15)

From the April 22, 2014 Summit, the Rocky Mountain College student newspaper.

At first glance, it may seem like any other church service. An invocation is spoken, hymns are sung, and a hallowed figure preaches virtues from the pulpit, looking down on the congregation with eyes that have seen the foolishness of straying from the path. This person was once in that congregation and feels the duty, now, to share wisdom learned through trial and error with those who are just starting on the same journey.

What appears to be just another sermon, however, goes beyond preaching to celebration. The speaker offers the annual Baccalaureate service of Rocky Mountain College. Alongside the Candlelight and Yule Log dinners, this service is one of the long-seated traditions that have permeated the school since 1878. Baccalaureate is the second-to-last milestone in a collegiate career: one that each student passes before the commencement ceremony on the following day.

Kim Woeste, RMC chaplain, said, “[Baccalaureate] opens the door for recognition that graduation is not just an academic achievement. At Rocky, we talk about educating the whole person – mind, body, heart, spirit. Baccalaureate is an opportunity for reflection, for acknowledging something significant is happening, and we need to celebrate. [It also] ties us to our church-related history ... Being reminded of where we come from is important.”

Though the service is, by tradition, religious, people of all religious ideals and beliefs are meant to feel comfortable attending. Readings will be both sacred and secular, and though the hymns are limited to the hymnal of the hosting Presbyterian church, their meanings span many different beliefs.

Judah LoVato, ’14, a member of the Baccalaureate Committee, said, “Baccalaureate is designed to offer spiritual guidance and encouragement, and it's a pretty way to reflect on the year. Regardless of beliefs, true faith and spirituality has something that speaks to a primal fascination with the larger universe.”

The Baccalaureate Committee, which assists Woeste in planning the ceremony, is responsible for selecting a speaker, readings, and hymns, as well as selecting a theme and overseeing the layout of the service. The enthusiasm of the committee led to the semi-joking idea to “ask Beyoncé, but have a backup plan,” which, in turn, inspired their theme of “Dreaming big in the midst of reality.” Though Beyoncé was unavailable, the committee is confident that their chosen speaker, Sam Hamm, associate professor of music, will do the service justice. He will be speaking to the graduates about transitions; Woeste paraphrased, “The caterpillar turns into the butterfly and doesn't go back into the cocoon.”

Caroline Jones, ’14, also on the committee, encourages attendance. “There is a lot of tradition in the Baccalaureate service ... and I think it is great to take part in that. ... It is just one more opportunity to celebrate our accomplishment!”

Whether one is part of the religious tradition or not, the service can still be meaningful. “It's a church service for the seniors,” committee member Travis Kuehn, ’14, says.

Some, like Jones, look forward to the faith aspect of the service: “Baccalaureate for me is a graduation celebration to honor God and recognize how He has guided, directed, and provided for me through these last four years. I want to give Him all the glory, and that is what Baccalaureate is all about for me,” she said. Essentially, Baccalaureate is simply a time to pause and think about what the college experience really means.

“With so much focus on the scientific and mathematical things we see, we don't always deal with the unseen, philosophical things,” Woeste said. “[Baccalaureate] opens the door for recognition that it's not just an academic achievement. It's about relationships, beliefs, values. It's a moment to pause and look inwardly before you go out into the world.”

Baccalaureate will be held at First Presbyterian Church (across Poly Drive from RMC, at 2420 13th Street West) on Friday, May 2, at 7:30 pm. Associate Professor of Music Sam Hamm speaks, and music includes offerings by soprano Keli Rhea Mitchell and the RMC Concert Choir and Chamber Singers. Robing and lineup begins at 7:00 pm. All graduating seniors, friends, and families are encouraged to attend.

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