Graves sets church service before GHS Sunday graduation

GUILDERLAND — Veronica Graves says she is glad she stood up for her beliefs.

Graves had been upset that Guilderland High School had scheduled its graduation for Sunday morning.
"Christian believers are to worship God on Sunday mornings," she wrote in a letter to The Enterprise editor early this month.

She had said her son, a senior slated to graduate, may not attend the ceremony at the Empire State Convention Center in Albany on June 26.

This week, Graves wrote to say that all Guilderland seniors and their families are invited to an early-morning Christian worship service, at 7 a.m., before graduation, at the Altamont Reformed Church.

Her family will attend the half-hour service, and then go to the Guilderland ceremony to watch Daniel Graves graduate. He will attend Clarkson University in the fall, with the goal of becoming a civil engineer.
"My mom’s coming up from Ohio," said Graves. "Danny’s the oldest grandchild...My mom’s pleased that now she’ll get to go to the graduation."
Graves went on, "It’s worth standing up for. Where I grew up in Ohio, it’s much more Bible belt. No one would consider a Sunday graduation.
"The Northeast is just different. Here, people said they agreed with me in theory, but they wouldn’t miss graduation over it...This way they can fulfill their obligation...I’m usually one to stand in the background and just be a mother. I’m glad I did this."

Scheduling graduation

In a June 2 article, which The Enterprise ran with Graves’s original letter, Superintendent Gregory Aidala explained that the district was forced into the Sunday slot if it wanted to continue to hold the ceremony at the convention center on a weekend.

The convention center will save a given spot, he said, such as the third Saturday in June, for a school that has used it the previous year. Because of a change in the state-wide Regents exam schedule, Guilderland switched from the third week to the fourth and, in 2004, the ceremony was held on a Sunday for the first time.
"Someone took our Saturday slot; we couldn't get it back," said Aidala.
The building cabinet then discussed holding the graduation ceremony at other venues, but, Aidala said, "Families and students preferred the convention center, so we accepted the Sunday. Our highest priority was to maintain the program on the weekend, so friends and family members from out of town can attend."
After the June 2 story ran, Graves said, "The principal wrote a letter right away, and the superintendent called and explained the reasons."

Graves got to work, then, trying to find a way to fit in a Sunday service before the graduation ceremony. She went to Robert Luidens, pastor of the Reformed Church at 129 Lincoln Ave. in Altamont, since his daughter is in the graduating class.
"My church is out in Duanesburg so no one would come," said Graves.

The Graves family attends the Quaker Street Bible Church in Delanson.
"He was very gracious," she said of Luidens. "He couldn't do the service himself. The Reformed Church has its synod this week. But his board okayed it unanimously," she said.

The Quaker Street pastor, Christopher Gerardi, will conduct the 7 a.m. service before graduation.
"Anyone can come and I hope a lot of people will," said Graves, although she said she’s concerned about how to notify people at this late date.
"I’d rather be in church on Sunday morning," she went on. "It breaks my heart. But I believe the Lord worked this out...What’s going to be next" Christians need to stand up and say, ‘It violates my constitutional rights to freedom of religion...’"
Graves has a younger son as well. She said that, in the future, when the school plans for its graduation, she hopes it will consider a week-night ceremony. "A week night is not offending to the Jewish people or the Christian people," she said.

With limited tickets available for each graduate, not many friends and relatives can attend the ceremony anyway, Graves said.
She concluded, "Sometimes the Lord doesn’t let you let things go; when he puts it in your heart, you have to follow through."

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