Graduates Challenged to Improve the World at Baccalaureate Ceremony

The traditional baccalaureate service was held on the eve of commencement and represented many faiths of the student body. Rev. Dr. Aidsand F. Wright-Riggins III, mayor of Collegeville and an ordained Baptist minister, delivered the baccalaureate address.

David Drea ’19 opened the evening with a welcome to his classmates. “We must keep asking hard questions about how we can make a difference in a world challenged by injustice, violence, and poverty,” said Drea. “Above all, let us not wait for inspiration from others, but let us be inspiring for others.”

Student speaker Jada Grice ’19 spoke about Ursinus as “the epitome of a small liberal arts college campus,” noting that in the past four years, the class of 2019 used the “power of small” to harness the “very big and authentic voice that lived in you all along.”

Mark Schneider, vice president for academic affairs and dean of the college, welcomed the graduates and honored guests on behalf of President Brock Blomberg.

Sam Pope ’19 introduced Wright-Riggins describing him as an active presence in the community. “Being an active presence isn’t just coming to speaking engagements,” said Pope. “It’s being where the people are, and being a part of the place you’re at in more than just words, but action.”

Wiggins holds a B.A. in comparative religions from California State University-Fullerton, a master of divinity degree from the American Baptist Seminary of the West/Graduate Theological Union (Berkeley, CA), and a doctor of ministry degree from the Samuel DeWitt Proctor School of Theology at Virginia Union University.

In the keynote speech, Wright-Riggins charged the graduates to “ask not ‘What’s in it for me?’ but ‘What’s in it for all of us?’ Asking not ‘Where will I financially and socially find myself 10 years from now?’ but asking ‘Where might I best find myself in service to others and leave the world a better place in which to live?’”

He also focused on the privilege of each graduate. “My aim is not to castigate ‘privilege,’ but to invite privileged people into accountability, responsibility, interdependence and service. All of us, and I do mean all of us, have some points of privilege in our lives.” Wright-Riggins described himself as “one of the most privileged people” there and then shared the story of the benefits he received while growing up in Compton, California, in the 1950s. “I tell you these stories about myself only because I need you to know and appreciate your own story,” said Wright-Riggins. He urged graduates to “name and claim and celebrate your unique privileges. Give thanks to God. Give thanks to your parents. Give thanks to your community. Fill your heart with gratitude for all the blessing that have been dumped on you.”

Drawing on a quote he attributed to the late Rev. Dr. Samuel DeWitt Proctor, former pastor of the Abyssinian Baptist Church in Harlem, he added, “those of us who have inherited benefits that we did not earn or deserve need to turn around and help those who inherited deficits that they did not earn or deserve, and help them to rise up to the scratch line where we are so that they may earn and enjoy all of the benefits that we so take for granted.”   

Additional student speakers represented their own faith. Shelby Carmichael ’19 read on behalf of the Christian tradition, Jonathan Guba ’19 represented his Jewish faith, Faraha Rathod ’19 spoke from the Islamic tradition, and Mysterie Sylla ’19 read her reflection in the humanist tradition.

The following senior awards and recognitions were also presented during the service:

Chapel Leader Award: Shelby Carmichael ’19

Hillel Award: Jonathan Guba ’19    

The Ursinus Quest Award: Mysterie Sylla ’19

Rev. Charles Rice International Travel Fellowship: Malik Geraci ’19, Elizabeth Iobst ’19

Religion, Justice and Peace Summer Research Scholar: Jada Grice ’19

—By Monique Kelly