A unique event was held at University of Nevada, Reno on April 11, when the third annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service blessed a graduating class in the traditional Hindu style.
The service included the application of tilak (religious mark) on the foreheads of graduates, participatory reading of Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit, and kirtan (sacred chant). In addition, it also included blessings by Christian, Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Baha’i, and Confucian representatives who read prayers in Arabic, Pali, Hebrew, Persian, and English.
Organized by Indo-American leader Rajan Zed in collaboration with Indian Student Organization and South Asian Association of the University, the service started with the lighting traditional lamp before the statue of goddess Saraswati, patron of learning and the arts, and included blessing of the upcoming graduates with wisdom from Vedas, Upanishads and Bhagavad-Gita—all ancient Hindu scriptures, by well-known Hindu monk Swami Vedananda from California. Prominent musician Jim Eaglesmith chanted kirtan number “Sita-Ram” and the audience followed him on the chant.
Special certificates were given to graduates on the occasion with the parting advice as –satyam vada (“speak the truth”), dharma chara (“practice righteousness”), matrudevo bhava (“treat your mother with great respect”), pitrudevo bhava (“treat your father with great respect”).
Besides Vedananda, those who blessed the graduating class included Catholic Pastor Charles T. Durante, Presbyterian Pastor Bruce Taylor, Bruce Brinkerhoff of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Muslim Imam Abdulrahim Barghouthi, Buddhist Priest Phil Bryan, Jewish Rabbi Elizabeth Beyer, Baha’i Roya Galata, Confucian Shih Fan Chu, Nevada Clergy Association president Gene Savoy Jr., Nevada Solicitor General Charles Wayne Howle, Sparks Mayor Geno R. Martini, Judge Jim Van Winkle, and Chair UNR Faculty Senate Elliott Parker. Reno Nevada Institute of Religion delivered a Quartet (My Heavenly Father loves me) led by Mark Lorentzen.
U.S. Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, US Congressman Dean Heller, Supreme Court of Nevada Associate Chief Justice James W. Hardesty, and Reno Mayor Robert A. Cashell sent congratulatory messages on the occasion.
Rajan Zed, who is president of Universal Society of Hinduism, speaking on the occasion, said that the purpose of this baccalaureate service was to root the graduating class in divine spiritual and cultural tradition so that they had a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success.
Baccalaureate service basically means service where a sermon is delivered to the graduating class. In use since at least the eighth century, origins of the baccalaureate service point to an Oxford University statute of 1432, which required each bachelor to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of the academic exercise.