Pastor Robert Johnson has fond memories of growing up in a small town in Alabama, among them is his memory of a special community-based program for graduates. Dressed in their caps and gowns, graduates from the three-area high schools would gather at Orange Chapel Church for this special but inspirational “Baccalaureate” ceremony. To Johnson, it seemed as though all the members of the community who had a hand in helping him get to this milestone in his life, were there to cheer him on.

“We looked forward as much to the Baccalaureate Ceremony as we did our school’s graduation,” recalled Johnson.

For planning purposes, graduates are asked to register online at Eventbrite

Needless to say, the simple but significant program made such an impression on his life, that it was something Johnson, the senior pastor at Saint Mark United Methodist Church in Wichita, had hoped to pass on to others. Johnson, who’s been in Wichita for just two years, says he quickly realized Wichita had the kind of strong community structure where a program like this would work.

“Being connected and rooted in a strong community is a key for success for young people,” said Johnson. “Nothing keeps someone grounded better than if they can remember where they come from.”

Johnson believes a program like the inaugural Greater Wichita Citywide Celebration for Graduates will be the kind of event that will help keep Wichita’s young people grounded in the strong principles they grew up on.

The citywide celebration will be held on Sun., June 2, 4 p.m. at Saint Mark Church, 1525 N. Lorraine. Graduates are to wear their caps and gown. They’ll jointly enter the sanctuary in a beautiful processional reflecting the diverse school colors of area schools, but there will be a unifying sense of community.

More than overly religious, Johnson said the program will be inspirational. The keynote speaker for this year’s ceremony will be Dr. Marche Fleming-Randle, Wichita State University vice president for Diversity and Community Engagement. Fleming-Randle is well-known for delivering entertaining, thought-provoking and inspirational speeches.

While the program is open to students of all races and denominations, Fleming-Randle’s message should resonate well with young students of color.

It’s the kind of message “our” students need to hear, but they may not hear at their school graduation,” said Johnson.

In addition to the keynote speech, the ceremony will include a special featured artist, recognition from City and State official and a performance by the ARISE Community Choir.

Following the formal program, guests will convene in the Saint Mark Family Life Center for a dessert and photo reception. There will be a photo booth for the graduates to take pictures with their family and friends. The photos will be uploaded to Eventbrite for everyone to share.

Participation in the program is open to all area graduates, from those receiving high school to advanced degrees.

For planning purposes, graduates are asked to register online at Eventbrite

Along with Saint Mark, the Citywide Celebration for Graduates is co-hosted by The City of Wichita Division of Diversity and Community Engagement, Newman University, Wichita State University, Real Men Real Heroes, and the Wichita Ministerial League.

Since 1996, Bonita has served as as Editor-in-Chief of The Community Voice newspaper. As the owner, she has guided the Wichita-based publication’s growth in reach across the state of Kansas and into...

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