Unique, one of a kind baccalaureate service in the world, was held at University of Nevada-Reno (UNR) in USA on April 15 evening.
“Fifth Annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service of UNR (Dikshant Utsav)” blessed the graduating class in the traditional Hindu style, complete with applying tilak (religious mark) on the foreheads of graduates, participatory reading of Gayatri Mantra in Sanskrit, keynote address by a Swami and kirtan (sacred chant). In addition, it also included blessings by Christian (various denominations), Muslim, Buddhist, Jewish, Native American, Baha’i, etc., representatives who recited prayers in Arabic, Pali, Hebrew, Paiute, besides English.
Organized by Universal Society of Hinduism (USOH) in collaboration with Indian Student Organization of UNR, it started with 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 (USA). Prominent musician Jim Eaglesmith chanted kirtan number “Hare Krishna, Hare Rama” and the audience followed him on the chant.
Besides Vedananda, those who blessed the graduating class in their own traditions included Rita Sloan of Roman Catholic Diocese of Reno, Toni de Salvo of Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd, Nicholas F. Frey of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Northern Nevada Muslim Community President Sherif A. Elfass, Hindu statesman Rajan Zed, Buddhist Priest Jikai’ Phil Bryan, Jewish Rabbi ElizaBeth W. Beyer, Nevada Clergy Association President Right Reverend Gene Savoy Junior, Native American elder of Paiute Tribe Ralph Burns and Baha’i Roya Galata. While Vedananda read a universal prayer, all these religious leaders repeated after him and raised their hands blessing the graduating students who stood in front of them and all other upcoming graduates in absentia.
United Stages (US) Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, US Senator Dean Heller and US Congressman Mark E. Amodei sent recognition certificates for the Baccalaureate Service. Mormon choir of Sparks (Nevada) Stake of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints lead by Emily Hollenbach presented a blessing number. Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd gave a musical number “Here I am, Lord” from Isaiah Chapter six of The Bible directed by Gloria Melms. Palkin Zed, Executive Director of non-profit Project Solution, was master of ceremonies.
USOH President Rajan Zed, who recited Gayatri Mantra (the most sacred mantra of Hinduism from oldest scripture Rig-Veda) in Sanskrit and audience repeated after him, said on the occasion that the purpose of this baccalaureate service was to root the graduating class in divine spiritual tradition so that they had a spiritually meaningful life in addition to material success.
Education in Hindu tradition had been deep rooted; Rajan Zed pointed out and added that after many important universities in ancient India, like Taxila, Nalanda, Sarnath, Amaravati, Banaras, Kanchi and Ujjain; great Indian universities also flourished in medieval period, like Odantapura (745 CE), Vikramasila (810 CE), Somapura (480 CE), Jagaddala (1090 CE).
Washoe County issued a special Resolution to mark the significance of First Annual Hindu Baccalaureate Service of UNR.
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.