Academy graduates 127

'It's been an amazing four years'

'It's been an amazing four years'

June 04, 2006|by RICHARD F. BELISLE / Staff Correspondent

MERCERSBURG, Pa. - The cool weather was more conducive to an early October football game than an early June graduation as 127 Mercersburg Academy seniors received their diplomas Saturday morning.

The graduates also heard a commencement address by a federal judge who gained national fame last year for his ruling against the teaching of intelligent design in public schools.

U.S. District Judge John E. Jones, himself a Mercersburg alumnus, in December ruled that the Dover (Pa.) School Board violated the constitutional separation of church and state in its 2004 vote to add intelligent design to the science curriculum.

Jones' ruling was a major setback to the intelligent design movement, which contends that living organisms are so complex that they must have been created by some kind of higher force - a move to promote religion in public schools.


Jones made only slight reference to his landmark school ruling in his remarks to the class of 2006 assembled under a towering Norway maple tree on the grounds of the elite private school campus.

Referring to Henry Wilkinson Bragdon, the Harvard-educated author and historian who spoke at Jones' own Mercersburg graduation in 1973, Jones said Bragdon's speech was long and "just plain boring. Let me see If I can intelligently design a better, and shorter, commencement address for you today."

He spoke of his own graduating class, which he said was "rather active. I think that they were relieved to get us out of here."

He said "unnamed class members" hid numerous alarm clocks in the ivy around the stage earlier that morning that "started to go off, much to (Bragdon's) annoyance."

They also shuffled the pages of Bragdon's speech, "causing him at one point to pause as he turned a page and discovered a disjointed sentence that bore no obvious relationship to the one he had just read."

In his address 33 years ago, Bragdon spoke of the unfolding Watergate scandal and the Vietnam War, which had just come to an end.

"Today, as I speak to you, we are again engaged in an unpopular and increasingly long war, and political scandals are just as prevalent, if not more so, than those that existed some 30 years ago," Jones said. "Similar to the early 1970s, polls show that most Americans think that the country is on the wrong track."

Saturday's graduates followed a long-standing academy tradition of not wearing caps and gowns during commencement. The seniors walked to their seats in dresses, suits, sports jackets and ties.

"It's been an amazing four years," Samantha Klowser of Mercersburg said of her academy experience. She praised the diversity of the school, which has about 440 students from 27 states and 22 countries, according to school officials.

Jiseon Lee, a South Korean native, said she followed three cousins to Mercersburg Academy. Lee said she is one of 15 Korean students enrolled there. They stick together and mix with other students on campus, she said.

"There is no racism here," she said.

David Custer of Lewistown, Pa., in line for graduation, said his fondest academy memory "is staying up late with friends on the fourth floor of Keil Hall. Nothing else stands out."

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

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