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Students find a better way to handle life's differences

May 30, 2002|by BOB MAGINNIS

Whether there's a prayer said as part of tonight's graduation ceremony at St. Albans High School in St. Albans, W.Va., probably will hinge on a judge's ruling. But the young man who hopes to lead that prayer has already set an example for others to follow.

Michael Ervin, an 18-year-old senior who plans to attend Bible College this fall, told The Associated Press that he's wanted to do this ever since he "accepted the Lord as my savior six years ago."

On the other side is another 18-year-old, Tyler Deveny, who says he's an atheist and feels that having a prayer at the graduation ceremony would subject non-Christians to disdain and ridicule.

Deveny's opposition has come with a price. He noted that he's "recently started to feel the effects of being the most hated person in St. Albans."

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But the surprising thing is that one of those who's not stoking that hatred is Ervin, who says it hurts him to see classmates yell at Deveny, adding that "I don't like that stuff."

What a mature young man. How many people - people much older than Ervin who are convinced they're right - would be able to resist the opportunity to cast their opponent as a godless villain?

Instead Ervin has said that he respects Deveny for stating his position with dignity and respect, a compliment Deveny has returned.

And so whether a prayer is said aloud tonight - and as Ervin has noted, nothing prevents anyone from praying silently, at any time - students have learned a valuable lesson.

And it is this: Even on questions close to the heart, it is possible to disagree without resorting to ugly words and violent actions.

It's an American lesson we wish we could export to those places in the world where differing ideas and beliefs often spark hate and death instead of just a lively debate. Thanks to these young men for reminding us that there is a better way.

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