Invocation at UAF graduation ceremony reinstated

Posted: Sunday, May 04, 2003

FAIRBANKS (AP) University of Alaska President Mark Hamilton said there is no good reason to stop an 80-year tradition, so he halted plans to drop the invocation at the graduation ceremony of the University of Alaska Fairbanks.

Hamilton said he will give the invocation.

Last week, UAF Chancellor Marshall Lind said he decided to eliminate the invocation to make the ceremony more inclusive of diverse beliefs. As a compromise, UAF officials were considering holding a moment of silence or reflection instead of an invocation.

Debra Damron, UAF's director of university relations, said Thursday campus officials stand by the process that led to Lind's decision. They reacted, Damron said, after past ceremonies in which people complained that an invocation at an event sponsored by a public institution was insensitive, discourteous even personally offensive.

She noted that UAF still offered faith-based, spiritual opportunities for graduates and their families, including a Sunday Mass on Commencement Day. Damron said clergymen from one of the on-campus ministries, United Campus Ministry or St. Mark's Catholic Center, provided the invocation in the past but that Hamilton will provide the invocation this year.

Lind said eliminating the invocation would have brought UAF in line with Anchorage and Southeast campuses. Neither of those schools have invocations at their commencement ceremonies.

Hamilton made that moot this week as well. He plans to deliver an invocation at the Southeast campus and has directed Anchorage campus officials to include an invocation at the commencement ceremony, the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reported.

He said that eliminating the practice altogether is not the solution to objections to an invocation.

The answer to that is to make sure the people that give your invocation do not invoke a specific deity or do not invoke a specific religion,'' Hamilton said.

The proposal to eliminate the invocation caught the attention of lawmakers, according to Sen. Gary Wilken, R-Fairbanks.

I didn't think that was a particularly bright idea,'' he said. Wilken and the Interior's two other Republican senators Gene Therriault and Ralph Seekins were planning to write a letter expressing their concerns about the change.

Wilken applauded Hamilton's action.

If there was ever a place we need to call on a higher power to help our graduates, it is at graduation,'' he said.

At UAA, the plan is to continue with past practice, according to Denise Burger, special assistant to Chancellor Lee Gorsuch.

We have traditionally included a moment for silent reflection and we will this year as well,'' Burger said.

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