Some Seniors Choose Alternate Sacred Texts For Graduation

Madison Thompson

“Just being so familiar with the Constitution will provide me with an…appreciation of the privilege of our basic rights,” Sam King says. “Hopefully, that will be the reason, and not because I’m in any sort of trouble.”

From the pond jump, to Founders Day Chapel, to “Warm Cookie Wednesday,” it is clear that the Lovett community is not only set on, but thrives on tradition. And it makes sense why. Lovett’s long standing practices bring a weirdly calming routine and create a deep bond throughout the ever-growing Lovett network. But as times change, so do the views surrounding each tradition (Hopefully not Warm Cookie Wednesday though, because something like Warm Pudding Wednesday would be a bit weird.)
Recently, the Lovett tradition of the “sacred text” at graduation, which has been upheld since Lovett’s first graduating class in 1962, has been subject to some changes. Historically, “every student was given a Bible at graduation,” explains Mr. Boswell, who was Lovett’s 12th grade dean up until this year. But over the past couple of years, Lovett has given students the opportunity to choose what sacred text they receive.
Most Seniors choose the Bible or another religious text by default or because of personal spirituality. For others however, the idea of choosing a personal “sacred text” is daunting. This was the case for senior Peter Nalle, who graduated in 2014. “I had several conversations with him early on… and Peter said he didn’t want to receive a sacred text,” says Mr. Boswell.
Peter’s perspective on the importance of a sacred text changed however, following Mr. Linzy Scott’s (Class of 1984) speech at the Founder's Day Chapel. “Mr. Scott was a Christian and attended Lovett at a time when we only gave Bibles to students,” recalls Mr. Boswell. “He spoke passionately how his Lovett bible had been a source of wisdom for him. He held it up at the assembly and it was clearly well worn and that it was a Bible he read regularly.” After learning about how much wisdom Mr. Scott had gained from the sacred text Lovett had gifted him, Peter met again with Mr. Boswell. In their meeting, Peter “said that he had not realized the extent to which this was a tradition at Lovett,” says Mr. Boswell. “Though he didn’t believe in organized religion he did believe in tradition and wanted thus to be a part of that Lovett tradition.”
Mr. Linzy Scott said it best by referring to his sacred text as “a source of wisdom.” In search of this same wisdom, Lovett has modified its protocol to allow students a choice over their sacred text. The result is varied with some “students [that] make a really serious choice about [a text] that will be meaningful to them, some kind default to the standard text of the religion they grew up in, and then other students choose some very off the wall things,” Mr. Boswells says. In the end though, Lovett just wants “seniors to receive a text that [is] meaningful to them,” whatever that might be.
For this reason, the rules and requirements are being stretched in order to accommodate student preferences. “I generally don’t push students for the why, because I think it needs [to be] a personal choice,” says Mr. Boswell. “I want this to be a gift that students hold on to not just a book that they read and pass on to a used bookshop. I want it to stay with them, such as when they go to college so that they can pull it off the shelf as a source of wisdom or peace for them when things get hard away from home.”
Because of this flexibility, occasionally there are some texts that fall outside of the realm of sacred texts or philosophy or scholarly work. In these circumstances, the administration prefers that they be given at a different time. “We will always provide the book to the student because that was what they requested,” says Mr. Boswell “but at a different time like Senior Honors Night.”
To learn more about this decision-making process, I interviewed students who chose some unusual sacred texts. In doing my research, I found that, if anything, students who did not choose the standard text were equally, if not more enthusiastic and connected to their text choices. It seems that finding a truly “sacred text” means giving students the full control to define meaningfulness for themselves.

Student Name: Melissa Kight
Sacred Text Choice: Chicken Soup for the Soul by Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen

When asked to choose a “sacred text” in the beginning of the school year, “I knew immediately that I did not want a Bible,” says Melissa Kight. Recently, Melissa has been questioning her own religious beliefs, prompting her to search elsewhere for a book that was meaningful to her. She finally decided on motivational speakers Jack Canfield and Mark Victor Hansen’s Chicken Soup for the Soul. The book consists of inspirational and true stories about real people’s lives. “When I went to camp as a younger child, my camp counselors would read this to me at night and it was always special and uplifting to me. It made me have a positive outlook on life,” she says. After graduation, Melissa is looking forward to using the gift to share the meaningful stories with others. “I think I will want to read it to younger children, as a counselor to my campers, and as a mom to kids,” she says. “I think it’s important to have positivity and to make girls feel good about themselves.”
Student Name: Challen Morgan
Sacred Text Choice: War and Peace, by Leo Tolstoy

Whether or not a text is sacred “depends on the person to be honest,” says Challen Morgan. “I chose my book because it is a focal point in world literature.” Challen’s sacred text is War and Peace by Russian author Leo Tolstoy. The book follows the history of the Napoleonic invasion of Russia and the effect on the Tsarist society. Tolstoy is able to follow these stories by focusing on the lives of five Russian aristocratic families. “I hope it gives me knowledge in [the] future through its historical context about powering through difficult times,” he says. Specifically, encouragement that “peace will come after times of trouble.”

Student Name: Sam King
Sacred Text Choice: The U.S. Constitution

When it came down to picking a sacred text, “my decision was kind of on the spot actually,” explains Sam King. “Originally, I wrote down none but then Mrs. Waterman encouraged me to choose a text. So, I wrote down the most important text to me in that moment.” That text was the U.S. Constitution. “I am an atheist,” says Sam, “so religious texts don’t really have any value to me. As an American however, I find the U.S Constitution very important.” Sam hopes to refer to his “sacred text” a lot when he leaves Lovett. “Just being so familiar with the Constitution will provide me with an…appreciation of the privilege of our basic rights,” he says. “Hopefully, that will be the reason, and not because I’m in any sort of trouble.”

Student Name: Natalie Beck
Sacred Text Choice: Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds by D. Caroline Coile
Most students who end up choosing a different sacred text are prompted to do so because they don’t identify with a specific religion or with religion all together. Natalie Beck however is one of the few students who chose an alternate text despite being a strong adherent of  the Christian faith. “I already have a Bible that I use, a study along Bible, in addition to a normal bible text at home,” Natalie laughs. “They were both given to me by special people so I didn’t really need another Bible.” Instead, Natalie chose the Encyclopedia of Dog Breeds as her sacred text because she is pursuing a career as a Veterinarian. “As a Vet, animals are extremely important to you,” she says. “You are in charge of these animals. You are in charge of their lives.” It seems like this text will definitely prove useful for Natalie once she leaves Lovett. “I figure, why not start memorizing all of the dog breeds now?”
Student Name: Haley Hooper
Sacred Text Choice: Essence of the Path to Enlightenment by Tushita Publications

I knew immediately upon being asked what I wanted to choose as my religious text,” says Haley Hooper. This is because over the past two years, Haley has connected with Buddhism and the Buddhist philosophies. This connection made Tushita Publication’s Essence of the Path to Enlightenment the perfect sacred text for Haley’s graduation. “Although I grew up Christian, I do not feel that the Bible has been involved in my life at Lovett and through high school,” she says. “It seems fitting for who I am now and where I am on my religious journey to graduate holding a book with the guidelines to reach Enlightenment.” The book explains the key concepts of Tibetan Buddhism, including how to meditate, karma and rebirth, love and compassion, and how to develop bodhicitta and wisdom.  “I know [the book] will keep me grounded physically, spiritually and mentally in college,” says Haley. “I know that it will help me in infinite ways in my life today, in college, and in the future.

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