Message of hope awaits graduates at baccalaureate service


As this most unique Class of 2020 prepares to celebrate the historic 100th graduation in Batesburg-Leesville High School history, friends and family will have two opportunities Wednesday night to shine a little light into their lives.

At 7 p.m., area faith leaders will host high school seniors and their loved ones at a drive-up Baccalaureate Service in the open fields in front of Cedar Creek Church, 788 W. Columbia Avenue. The interfaith service is open to the public and will be held rain or shine.

Though traditionally a Christian faith-based event, this Baccalaureate Service – held in this age of coronavirus-inspired fear and uncertainty – will offer something for everyone looking for encouragement.

“It’s about celebrating the achievements of our graduating class, but more importantly, giving back credit to God for those achievements,” said the Rev. Neal Smith, Associate Pastor of Students and Families at Batesburg First Baptist Church, one of the event organizers. “It’s like a worship service – we use Scripture and correlate that to our grads and encourage them and bolster their confidence – all the while reminding them and reminding ourselves that God is in control, that God is making a way, that God is providing direction.”

Loudspeakers set up in front of the church will allow folks to sit safely in their cars, roll down their windows and hear that message of hope and encouragement. In case of rain, the entire service also will be broadcast on a low-power FM transmitter; attendees on-site can tune their car radios to the uplifting message.

The service has been planned by Pastor Smith and his fellow pastors Kevin Taylor and Garrett Armstrong at Cedar Creek Church, John Yorio at Samaria Baptist Church and Kent Suits at Christ Community Church.

After the Baccalaureate Service, in a wholly separate commemoration, lights in homes and businesses all over Batesburg-Leesville – and indeed, all across Lexington County – will flicker on as the county’s school districts join together to “Glow for Grads.”

All Lexington County districts are asking residents, businesses, and others to turn on their lights at 8:20 p.m. Wednesday for at least 20 minutes and 20 seconds to show support for the county’s 3,786 high school seniors. Here in Lexington School District Three, the lights also will go on at the high school football stadium, where so many of these seniors have made lasting memories on crisp fall Friday nights during their four years as Panther faithful.

Dark as things have been for the Class of 2020 during this season when COVID-19 has robbed seniors of proms, awards ceremonies and other traditional rites of passage, organizers hope these two events will serve as beacons of inspiration for graduates facing the inevitable challenges of adulthood.

“It has definitely been a challenge, but it’s been one that hopefully will encourage growth,” Pastor Smith said. “A lot of times, it’s in our weakest moments in life, in our challenging moments in life, when we realize that whatever we’re going through is totally out of our control – as with COVID-19. It’s in that generalized weakness that we really can draw our strength from the Lord, those of us that are believers.”

Despite all the potential disappointments this year’s graduates have suffered during what has been anything but a textbook senior year, the struggles they’ve endured must be put into perspective as they now step into the rest of their lives ahead. The COVID-19 shutdown and social distancing, while tough on our everyday lives, also has brought many families closer together, gathered families back around the dinner table and slowed down the frenetic pace of society to put focus back on what’s truly important in life, Pastor Smith said.

“Right when we think that we have a grasp on things, right when we think we have an understanding about what we’re supposed to be doing with our lives, things change,” he said. “We may have a game plan in our lives, but God may have a different game plan for us in our lives.”

The Cedar Creek Church Ridge campus on W. Columbia Avenue also will host a second Baccalaureate Service on Thursday night, May 21 for graduates, family and friends of Ridge Spring-Monetta High School.