Two days before the Enfield High School Class of 2011 holds its commencement exercises, the class president received his diploma in an unorthodox ceremony at the conclusion of graduation rehearsal Thursday.
Patrick Knighton, a Seventh-day Adventist, is unable to attend Saturday's graduation due to religious beliefs. On , he appealed to the Board of Education to change the date of graduation.
"One of the distinctions of my religion is that we observe the Sabbath Saturday as our holy day," he told board members at that time. "On this day, we refrain from business or business-related activities...because of the day of the week, my friends, family and I will not be able to attend this special ceremony. It is clear to see that this is causing me tremendous grief."
The Sabbath Saturday runs from sunset Friday to sunset Saturday, Knighton said.
The school board convened a special meeting on , and voted to keep the graduation date as originally scheduled for June 25. However, the board later decided to follow the advice of Superintendent of Schools John Gallacher that all future graduations be held on weekdays.
At the conclusion of Thursday morning's rehearsal in the school gymnasium, Knighton, wearing a green gown and mortarboard, received the Ed Boland Award, the social studies department scholar award, presented by Dr. Frank Taylor.
He then received his diploma in a special presentation by Connie Hall, his first and second-grade teacher in Berrien Springs, Mich., who flew in from Reno, Nev. to take part in the ceremony.
"Patrick has always been dear to my heart, he has been consistent in his beliefs and what he stood for," Hall said. "I've kept up with him through the years, and when he asked me to come to present him his diploma, it was a no-brainer - I stopped what I had to do to fly up here and support him. He has always stood for what is right. He's been a role model to my son, helping him to know how to live and stand for right."
With his family and about 50 members of his church looking on in delight, Knighton was congratulated by Gallacher, Mayor Scott Kaupin, Board of Education chairman Greg Stokes and board member Judy Apruzzese-Desroches. He then stepped to the podium and addressed his classmates, as he would have done had he been able to attend the actual ceremony.
"As I look out into this audience, I can't help but smile," he said. "I'm smiling simply because I am privileged to have another opportunity to speak to a group of peers who have meant so much to me over the past four years. We are the type of people that are not bewildered by the types of things we can't control. Throughout our four years at Enfield High, we've been attacked by several major natural and unnatural disasters. We survived through a flood, a fire, multiple snow days, blizzard conditions, no electricity for a day, two graduation controversies, and we narrowly missed a tornado, yet we kept unparalleled composure. Rather than complaining about them, we would rather make the best of a bad situation. It is this type of attitude that has made us successful at Enfield High, and this type of attitude will also move us far in life. Class of 2011, I leave you with three words: go be victorious."
Knighton's fellow seniors gave him a standing ovation as he concluded his speech.
Principal Tom Duffy said, "I met with Patrick and his mom, and we wanted to personalize and individualize enough that he, his family and his church family felt as though they were part of it. I also wanted the class to be involved in it, and that was important to Patrick as well. This is a close-knit, well-rounded class that has done a lot of things together; this class has stayed together through a lot. He had kind, heartfelt words to speak to his class, and we wanted him to get the due respect, honor and meaning that a well-earned diploma and being a department scholar has."
In an interview following the ceremony, a grateful Knighton said, "I never pictured this in my mind, and I'm thankful to God that I had the experience. I hope my classmates learned a lesson about their character and what they should be accomplishing in life. They have supported me full on and were understanding to my situation, and I really appreciate them for that."