BLOUNTVILLE, TN (WJHL) – Northeast State Community College has decided not to include prayer in its graduation ceremony and will instead observe a moment-of-silence.
This comes after an eleven member group called “The Coalition of Concerned Student Leaders” requested the change.
The group sent a letter to President Doctor Janice Gilliam and the school’s administration Friday, saying it was needed out of respect for the diversity and inclusion of the whole campus.
School administrators have not confirmed if this decision was a direct response to that student group’s petition, but those student leaders told News Channel 11 they feel their voices were heard and they’re hoping for a more inclusive graduation ceremony, all while some other students feel this decision should be reconsidered.
Seth Manning, who’s part of the coalition and is Student Governor President Emeritus, said they coalition has reached an agreement with administration. They’ve also reached an agreement with student speakers, to avoid prayer during the ceremony.
“We hope that everyone will respect those agreements and I’m confident that they will,” Manning said.
Manning said he’s Christian and others in the coalition are also Christian and it’s about promoting inclusion.
“If you want to pray, you can pray in a Christian way. if you want to do it in a Muslim way, you can do it in a Muslim way. Or, if you are an atheist then you have the chance to contemplate whatever you want to do,” Manning said.
Others feel differently, Gloria Bridges co-drafted her own petition that now has over 100 signatures and it’s providing an alternative involving just students and not administration.
“Two of our students have offered to lead our commencement in prayer,” Bridges said.
This decision is one that her and other feels just wasn’t fair.
“We had 111 and I have about 50 more people who have asked for their signature to be put on that and I’m continuously getting more,” Bridges said.
Bridges said no matter what the decision, some form of prayer will be at Northeast State’s graduation.
“There’s going to be prayer at graduation whether it’s one person offering it up in their heart or the entire 1500,” Bridges said.
Both sides of the debate are looking forward to a memorable day.
“We’re just looking to graduate and have a happy ceremony for everyone,” Manning said.
Students leaders say there’s another petition online, calling their coalition a “hate group.” Both students we spoke with Monday night said they disagree with that wording. Manning said the coalition is seeking legal advice on how to address that petitioner’s actions.
Manning said the coalition is dropping any plans to protest the event and if there are any efforts to break the agreements, they’re going to let that speak for itself.
Northeast State’s graduation ceremony is Tuesday night at 7:00 p.m. at the ETSU Mini-Dome.
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