The “Baccalaureate” service is, basically, a worship service offered by a school for its graduating class and their families and friends. Because the religious inclinations of the graduates will likely vary, these days the service is very inclusive. At Berea College, Baccalaureate is lively, musical and, we hope, inspiring. The service lasts just over an hour.
The odd name, baccalaureate, comes from the early years of higher education when the bachelor’s degree was called “the baccalaureate.” It is believed that, during the 15th century, Oxford University established a tradition of sending their graduates off through a (very) long service that included sermons offered in Latin. When this tradition was carried to the United States the ceremony was changed, with the distinctly religious aspects of the ceremony encompassed in a service before Commencement. That service came to be called “Baccalaureate.” The word began as baccalaureus, (bachelor), and was altered to bacca lauri, (laurel berry) to mirror the bay tree leaves that were woven into crowns to be placed on the heads of scholars.
The purpose of the service is to express gratitude. By the time students arrive at Baccalaureate they have completed an immense volume of work, and have encountered and triumphed over countless academic, social, financial and other challenges. They have made friends, may have fallen in love (sometimes more than once!), and have become better acquainted with themselves. At the same time, their professors have given their very best in helping to guide them in that journey. Countless members of the staff, including the labor supervisors, have played roles in making the Great Day possible. And, finally, their families and friends have helped in every way they could, including holding the almost-graduates in prayer. Let it never happen that Commencement Day arrives at Berea College without us having, first, expressed our gratitude.