Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) eliminated religious prayer from its graduation ceremony this year.
Though MIT Chaplain Robert Randolph traditionally gave a prayer at the ceremony, MIT’s Commencement Committee emailed students in May to inform them that this practice would no longer be the case.
The change is the result of a campus debate surrounding an op-ed written by Aaron Scheinburg in the university’s newspaper. Scheinburg wrote:
???[I]t would be so easy ??? embarrassingly easy ??? to extend [the prayer’s] message to 100 percent of students by simply not invoking religion. If the administration wants to accommodate everyone, it should minimize exclusion, not average presumed personal preferences. Simply not mentioning God would exclude no one. Choosing neutrality would just be like all the other days when MIT doesn???t endorse a religion.”
Last year, Randolph’s prayer was to the “God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed.” This year, he began his part of convocation by addressing the debate surrounding the issue.
???Some of you are aware that this portion of the commencement program got a bit of conversation started here on campus this year. As is often the case when thoughtful people talk about important matters, everyone benefited,??? he said.
Instead, Randolph invoked a secular prayer with the statement, ???[t]oday is the beginning of a new chapter in our collective lives, we have come from many places and we are grateful for the shared energy we have found here.???
He ended the prayer with a Maya Angelou quote.
Randolph told Campus Reform:
???[This issue is] not something that???s come up before…we are familiar with the fact that we are a diverse community, and so we have many faiths represented, but we have never had a conversation prompted by a group that felt that they were left out since they didn???t believe in any higher power. Their solution, which was not to have any kind of invocation, was not an acceptable solution either…
I personally benefited by having to go back and think about this whole question again, about what inclusion means. I???m not sure that the solution is going to be satisfactory to everybody, and I???m not sure that the solution will be satisfactory to me, but I think that we have to have a conversation. That???s the commitment for the fall.???