Valedictorian Too Young to Choose God Over Graduation

Jacqueline Burt Cote

graduates hugEverybody's impressed with California high school valedictorian Carolyn Fine for sticking to her spiritual guns and refusing to give a speech at graduation because the ceremony coincides with the Jewish holiday Shavu'ot, which prohibits the use of electricity (including the microphone Fine would need to address thousands of people). Everybody, that is, except me. In my opinion, displays of religious conviction in teens have more to do with obedience than true conviction -- and I'm talking about obedience to mom and dad, not God. That's why I'm not forcing religion on my own kids. When they're old enough, they can decide for themselves.

It's extremely rare for children to choose their own belief system. Religion is usually something you're born into and go along with for awhile because, well, you don't really have a choice. Then, sometime around college, you realize, "Hey, my parents aren't around to drag me to church anymore ... do I even believe in any of that stuff?" (This phase often kicks in around the same time you discover Sartre or Nietzsche.) So begins a very necessary period of existential pondering. Some of us work through our issues fairly quickly and go back to practicing the faith we were raised in, some never stop questioning, others convert to a new religion entirely. The path you follow at that point should be your choice, not your family's or anyone else's.

An adult with the courage of her convictions can indeed be impressive, even if you're not personally convinced of the same things. I guess there's a certain nobility attached to those who put their idea of God's wants ahead of their own. (Sometimes it seems more naive than noble, but that's just me.)

But when I look at a teen like Fine, I don't see a brave spiritual warrior. I see an excellent student who obviously has made pleasing her parents and teachers a priority in life, a kid who hasn't yet had the chance to figure out what she really thinks.

A girl who might, someday, wish she'd stepped up to the mike at her graduation after all.

Do you think Fine will regret her decision?


Image via Ren Bucholz/Flickr

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