God is at your graduation

The case for removing official prayer from MIT’s graduation ceremony

Did you know that at your graduation, you will be asked to pray to a god, whether you believe in one or not? Chances are that you didn’t, and that’s the peculiar thing about graduation — you don’t know anything about it until it’s over, and after that you’d be hard-pressed to care. Now, you may recognize there are bigger problems out there, and ask, “Who cares about some words?”

I agree that this is a small concern. But it irks me when such a trivial problem has an equally trivial and amenable solution, and when slights, however minor, could be so easily corrected but are not.

Last graduation, a friend expressed his distaste and frustration to me regarding the prayer. Like many students, he overcame tremendous odds to arrive and succeed at MIT. Distanced from the religious pressure of his community back home, he eventually left religion entirely — a transition he viewed with pride, as another accomplishment facilitated by the intellectually open atmosphere of MIT.

This is not atypical — 28 percent of seniors surveyed by The Tech expressed that they had lost or diminished their religious faith during their time here. For him and for many students, graduation was perhaps the most significant life milestone up until then. The ceremony is meant to celebrate everyone’s perseverance, accomplishment, growth, and bright future. And yet in order to attend this ceremony, he had to accept that he would be asked to go against his convictions by praying to a god and subject himself to the invocation of a belief system from which he had proudly divorced himself after sincere intellectual struggle. Except that like most students, he didn’t know about it in advance. And for what?

A graduation prayer is an exclusive ceremony directed toward those who believe in a god — some 40 percent of the student body, according to the 2012 survey by The Tech (although about 20 percent stated neither belief nor lack thereof). The rest of graduation is broadly accessible and intended to have meaning for all students.

In the 2013 convocation prayer, Chaplain Bob Randolph invoked “God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed” to include religious minorities. After all, imagine you are a Christian. Something might not sit well if you were asked, at an event whose purpose is to mark an important personal milestone, to pray to Allah. Now, you wouldn’t make a fuss — it only lasted a minute, you tuned it out — but something would certainly feel inappropriate. It would be excluding you.

Abraham and Mohammed were mentioned so that the approximately three percent and two percent of the MIT population that practice theistic Judaism and Islam, respectively, would feel included, and I support that intention. But why bother including these groups if you are excluding the 40 percent of MIT students who do not believe in gods at all?

We rightly feel instant sympathy for religious minorities who might have to stand around awkwardly while a Christian ceremony is inserted into their graduation, but it somehow feels acceptable to make nonbelievers do the same. Why is it necessary to avoid subjecting disciples of other religions to Christianity, but atheists just have to tough it out? Meanwhile, the prayer’s message is always universal — wishing well toward humanity, wishing us wisdom, resolve, and other virtues. It would be so easy — embarrassingly easy — to extend that message to 100 percent of students by simply not invoking religion.

Before MIT, I attended the University of Texas. Although open nonbelievers are a small minority there, no official UT ceremonies feature a prayer. Now, you and I both know why — public institutions cannot endorse a religion thanks to our First Amendment. Federal courts have long ruled that prayer at graduation constitutes an endorsement of religion. So by legal standards, leading an official prayer to God at graduation means that MIT is endorsing theism. It’s free to do that, but I wonder who desires it. MIT is an established safe haven for ideas and spirited discussion, and I doubt anyone feels it’s appropriate for it to adopt an official position on religious truth.

Of course, my first thought was, “Why remove a tradition when it’s not hurting anybody?” But based on the above consideration, damage is done. I often defend the importance of tradition. It links us to one another and to the same moment in years, decades, and centuries past. But what does this graduation prayer provide? You only do it once. No one seems aware in advance that it will happen, so no students would note its absence.

Standing at graduation, I will feel a connection to all the past MIT graduates in whose footsteps I follow. But is it the prayer that facilitates that connection? Maybe I’ll feel solidarity with those who found it equally distasteful but were resigned to its continuation because it wasn’t worth challenging. Sometimes traditions should end, and I believe this tradition of exclusion has run its course.

Another objection is that some people would like the ceremony to be less religious while others would like it to be more religious, and it is the administration’s duty to find a happy medium. But how many students, accustomed to the pluralism and mutual respect of MIT, really feel it is right and important to inject their own religion into a ceremony that is supposed to bear deep significance for all their nonreligious peers as well?

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. If religious students would like an additional ceremony to celebrate graduation in a distinctly theistic way, that can happen separately. The main ceremony, however, is a banner of our entire community’s values. Let us not so needlessly inflict hypocrisy on the Institute’s dedication to inclusivity.

The Founding Fathers wisely disconnected government from religion to keep the latter from acting as a divisive force. Likewise, graduation should be a great celebration of unity among MIT students — a celebration not just of our individual accomplishments, but also of our collaboration, commiseration, and common values. The ceremony should unite us. Every segment and speaker in it should make an effort to ensure the ceremony belongs to each and every one of us.

Aaron Scheinberg is a graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences. He can be reached at worldmap@mit.edu.

Andrew about 10 years ago

I definitely had the same sentiments two years ago. My academic advisor is on the graduation committee, and I intended to contact him about it, but as you said, I'm not going to be graduating again, so I didn't bother. I think this piece is a good way to start the decision. Thanks

Anonymous about 10 years ago


Pete about 10 years ago

Interesting conundrum. While you are advocating for the removal of prayer which affirms the beliefs of many (most) of those who attend, that same act of removal would now be affirming your belief in "non-prayer" as a solution. There is no "middle ground" in such a binary discussion, either prayer happens or it does not, and either choice affects those of the opposite side of the spectrum.

As for the founding fathers you cite, they did direct that Congress shall not establish a national religion or prefer one over another. This was in context of the Church of England and the issues of those times. The Free exercise clause which is often considered part of the same issue, also permits Congress to get involved to ensure that those who choose to exercise their religious choices have the freedom to do so.

Back to the graduation ceremony. While the author considers the prayer portion as ancillary and not important (perhaps even at odds with his beliefs) I am quite sure that others would consider a moment of prayer very central to this ceremony and an affirmation of their beliefs. Again, a binary choice. The author mentions that those who wish to pray could have an additional ceremony on their own, but does not consider that they could do the same if they wish to have a ceremony without a moment of prayer.

There is no elegant solution that solves all aspects of this conundrum. Merely being in the company of others who are praying or sharing a moment of prayer, does not require a non-believer to do so.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

There is no "middle ground" in such a binary discussion, either prayer happens or it does not, and either choice affects those of the opposite side of the spectrum.

I disagree. Even very, very religious people don't pray at every moment of their life, and graduation can be one of those moments that they don't pray during. Not having prayer at graduation doesn't 'affirm' the choices of atheists, in the same way that not having prayer at, say, the beginning of 18.03 doesn't affirm the choices of atheists. It's just not there.

Jeff about 10 years ago

Pete, although I agree that excluding a prayer from the ceremony would make as much of a statement as including one, it doesn't seem to me that the decision is completely binary. They could, for instance, include a moment of silence with the suggestion that people use it for prayer or reflection, rather than directly referring to the "God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed." In addition to nonbelievers, this gesture would be more inclusive of people of other faiths. While I certainly don't think it would please all attendees, I think it would be a more respectful approach.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

To commenter 3: It is absolutely false that there is no middle ground and that is a binary decision.

You state that the moment of prayer is an affirmation of Christians' beliefs. Well, an affirmation of atheists' beliefs would be if we had an "anti-prayer" at graduation in which we affirmed our lack of belief. It is not MIT's place to "affirm" one way or another.

Simply not making a statement either way IS the middle ground. It is EXACTLY what neutrality is, so it is clearly the elegant way out of the "conundrum".

(Unless you believe that someone endorses atheism every time they happen to not be talking about God.)

An "anti-prayer" is absurd, but no less absurd than a prayer in the 50-50 demographic that is MIT. The fact that the latter feels so much less absurd is merely a consequence of the privileged status of Christianity in our culture.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Although my family is religious, I think it's only fair to respect everyone's beliefs by keeping forms of worship as a separate event. I believe the chapel has prayer sessions before and after the ceremony - please correct me if I'm wrong.

During the surprise prayer, I wondered if MIT, which prides itself in diversity and many different religions, truly supported all forms of faith, spirituality, and belief.

Not having prayer doesn't mean the Institute is "anti-prayer" - even my super religious family can understand this simple concept. They don't need every single ceremony to pray to their God in order to feel included. Families are welcome to pray to whichever God(s) they believe in before and after the official ceremony. But the ceremony is meant to include all. It's to celebrate the hard work we've been through to earn this diploma, regardless of which God(s), if any, aided us through our challenges and triumphs.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Good afternoon everyone,

I do agree with part of the author's message. I strongly believe that it is not anyone's place to impose religion on others. That being said, I do not believe that mentioning the possibility of the existence of some higher power at the graduation ceremony is intended to force people to pick a side. I do not believe the intent is to exclude anyone.

Fortunately, or unfortunately, it is easier to remind people, regardless of their expertise in a scientific or engineering discipline, that they are not the center of the universe by mentioning the idea of the existence of some higher power, regardless of designation.

I may be the only one seeing the message in this fashion, but I do believe that the mention of God absolutely includes everyone. It includes everyone because it is simply the easiest way to remind all people to be humble. The easiest way to remind people to treat others with kindness and to treat them as you would like to be treated in return. The easiest way to remind that year's graduates to give a chance to the next generation of MIT graduates when they come to work for the same company and just may be a little sharper and a little faster.

Back to the author's message. It is not totally unreasonable to remove outright the mention of God from the graduation ceremony as the mere mention of any higher power seems to rile up all people. The counter argument is that by not mentioning any higher power at all may also rile people up.

Making sure that you get a graduation speaker that hits all the points I mentioned above is about, well, 1 in 7.2 billion. It's just easier to mention God and then all of those points are implied. That being said, it is not totally unreasonable to leave the mention of God in the graduation ceremony. It just covers all your bases.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Note that the preceding post (#8) offers the very definition of imposing one's religious beliefs on an ostensibly non-religious community and event, based on convenience and vague concerns about the alternative.

Please try to understand that humility, kindness, collegiality, and research acumen do not critically depend on the worship of the Abrahamic God.

Further, I think you misunderstand; the issue is not the graduation speaker's comments, but the separate benediction scheduled and endorsed by the Institute. I was embarrassed by it at my graduation and would like to see it dropped, and I appreciate this thoughtful article arguing the same.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

First of all, completely agree with everything in this piece.

This is a great place to apply the Reversal Test (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Reversal_test). If there were no mention of god or moment of prayer in the commencement speech, why would we ever add one?

Anonymous about 10 years ago

I think the situation is even worse than the article suggests - it never mentions what total percentage of MIT students the invocation of "God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed" covers. If my calculations are correct, less than a third actually believe in an abrahamic god.

I find this to be outrageous. I think a protest is in order.

Perhaps at every "amen", or just right after any phrase that excludes non-abrahamic belief systems, say loudly and forcefully as a group "I do not believe in an abrahamic god."

Even starting to organize such an action in a serious way might get the MIT administration to at least institute a change such as that suggested by 5. News organizations lap stuff like this up. MIT hates bad publicity.

To me Jeff's suggestion seems like a pretty decent compromise; I don't think it inappropriate to basically mention the fact that some people are going to pray during such a period of silence. Although since prayer is mentioned and reflection could be interpreted as being part of prayer, I think some words that specifically reference non-religious reflection would be in order. Something that would make it very clear all religions as well as the non-religious are included.

IMHO the effect on religious minorities is soft-pedaled in this article.

Atheist/Agnostic/No Religion at 51 outnumbers non-abrahamic faiths at 12, but in general the people I know who are of those minority faiths feel like much more is at stake - both this world and the next world(s) or state(s) of being are in play, and depending on the religion they may have in many cases been brought up to believe that other religions are at best suboptimal, and at worst paths to, basically, being tortured after you die for a long time or forever.

I had a conversation with some friends of minority faiths about this article. Their reaction to the knowledge that a high official of the school they pay to educate them tells a chaplain their student loans are paying for to give a speech that implies that MIT as an institution finds their beliefs to be wrong or at least unimportant varied. Some were unhappy; some were pissed off; the reaction was much stronger than any of my non-religious friends, and was uniformly negative.

Chelsea about 10 years ago

Speaking as an atheist here.

The best argument I've heard in favor of the graduation prayer is that for a religious student, their religion means a lot to them and is a very important part of their life, and that it's nice for the graduation ceremony to give a nod to it. I can respect that.

As it turns out, I feel exactly the same way about my own "religion" (or lack thereof). I get the feeling that most religious people just don't understand how much irreligion means to some of us who are irreligious.

I was raised in a Christian house. It was a struggle for me to break free of that, to tell my family, and to get them to understand and respect how I see the world. Atheism is a big part of my personal identity, but it doesn't get a nod at the graduation ceremony, and rightly so: I think no religious worldview should get that kind of endorsement, even mine.

Watching a "Cosmos" episode is, for me, as spiritual an experience as prayer used to be. I'd love a nod to my worldview which takes the form of an ode to the grandeur of physics and the majesty of the known universe. But you don't see me trying to push this ode on anyone else's graduation ceremony.

Jasmine Florentine about 10 years ago

Really nice article Aaron!

Oddly enough, it's not something I'd ever thought about - I think for me the fact I don't believe in god extends to generally not thinking about religion (I consider myself culturally Jewish, religiously atheist). So it doesn't bother me when I have to sit through a prayer because irreligion doesn't mean much to me - to me, my disbelief in a higher power is just not relevant to daily life. I suspect that the people organizing this may think that this is true of all atheists, but from what you and many of these comments are saying, that's not the case. It's certainly making me think again, and I think part of that is that I forget for many people making the step from religion to non-religion is a big one.

(The problem for me is when I'm forced not just to listen to a prayer, but when I have to actively pray/acknowledge god. I stopped saying the Pledge of Allegiance back in middle school for a number of reasons - but that was top of the list.)

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Sitting through prayer is not a problem for many Atheists.

However, normalizing religion is. In this country, you cannot be president unless you are religious (particularly, Christian, and generally a Protestant even then). People deem that their religion has a rightful place in society to the point where they use religious grounds to take scientific theory out of schools or prevent consenting adults from becoming legally joint.

When my school makes me sit through prayer, I see it as enforcing these standards. It is not allowing equality, it is specifically endorsing the beliefs of others with no regard to my own.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

I don't recall there being a prayer during my graduation, but perhaps I missed it.

I don't think its that big of a deal. Even if most of the student population is not religious, plenty of folks who might attend the graduation ceremony and are donors or will become donors are religious. Including a short prayer might be a (quite modest) way to appeal to those folks.

It would be nice if we could separate religious language from universal expressions. But for many people (especially in the united states) philosophy is expressed in religious terms and it makes sense to communicate using that language.

I personally only get offended by religious expressions when they can't be interpreted as universal sentiments that I agree with. I'd imagine that whatever was in the prayer could be so interpreted.

Cory about 10 years ago

Number 10 all the way! Thank you!

Also, Aaron, this is such a great article!

Anonymous about 10 years ago

In public schools, they have a "moment of silence." That is the happy middle ground. Religious students understand that time is meant for them to pray. Secular students enjoy a moment to themselves.

Leah about 10 years ago

Thank you Number 12! I think this is a very large part of the issue and I could not have said it better myself.

To Commenter 15, including a prayer is also a very good way to deter donors of other religions. If more people are excluded by the prayer than included, MIT might be losing more potential funding than it gains. Also, although you feel comfortable with many religious expressions, many MIT students do not. The importance to us of not having someone else's religion deemed more important than our own should not be overlooked.

I did not know that a graduation prayer existed before this article and I am very grateful to the author for bringing this to the attention of the undergraduate population. If this issue cannot be remedied though words on paper or text on a computer screen, I do not think Number 11's proposal to act is unreasonable.

Jeremy D. Sher '99 about 10 years ago

As a rabbinical student and a vocal proponent of religion in general, I find Aaron's careful argument in this article to be persuasive. I have an immense respect and appreciation for Bob Randolph -- one of the pillars of MIT values in an Institute that I increasingly fear has lost them -- and I do not wish to propose how better to do his work. But I think the idea of a message about what's important without mentioning a deity deserves consideration.

I do think any graduation would be incomplete without some nod to values -- verily, institutionally endorsed values -- that the Institute wishes to promulgate to graduating students as parting words and a moral guide for their journey ahead, not to mention expressing good wishes to all. I would not remove this from Commencement, and to be clear, I don't think Aaron argued to remove that from Commencement either.

Having said that, I think this piece is argued well and deserves to be taken seriously, not just by the Institute but by any institution open to people of any or no religion. I would be fascinated to know what my many atheist friends at Harvard Divinity School would say about this piece (please stop the "Godless Harvard" jokes). Change happens. Often it's good. Thinking about it is always good.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

Either graduation is about making students happy or it isn't. If it is, then we have to weigh the benefits of the benediction to religious students against the harms to non-religious students if we want to be good utilitarians.

If you are a religious student, then presumably you believe that God has helped you to achieve some measure of success in life and at MIT. For these people, an official recognition of the roll that God played for them would be a deeply meaningful gesture. (An effect which could not be well replicated by ghetto-izing the event to another venue.) Compare this to the feeling that non-religious students would have when sitting through a benediction: mostly boredom. This is America, and for better or worse sitting through nominally religious events is pretty commonplace. Even if you dont exactly like it, youre definitely used to it by this point. (Preempting rebuttal: This is fundamentally different from actively faithless ceremonies, which are few and far between, and which most religious people have probably never encountered.) In this case, the benediction seems like a utilitarian addition to graduation.

But in my opinion, graduation simply isn't about making students happy. Graduation is a time to dress up and smile and take photographs and pretend like we enjoyed the last however many years, all the while waiting with bated breath for someone to hand us a piece of paper that lets us leave TFP and never look back unless we want to. In this case, graduation is all about tradition. Not just for the students, but also for our parents (who, by the way, are much more likely to be religious than we are) and the possible wealthy donors in the audience. The only other thing that MIT would worry about is that you will withhold donations as a result of a 30 second prayer at graduation, which, realistically, you wont.

In either case, it makes more sense to leave the benediction in. But even if it weren't, or if the case were only marginal, you also have to consider the optics of removing the benediction. This includes both the probable optics (mixed cheers and grumbling, but mostly a whole lot of bupkis) and the possible optics (picked up by a major news outlet; religious outcry). Being the risk-adverse, multibillion dollar institution that we know and love, the best choice for MIT is clear.

Aaron Scheinberg about 10 years ago

Dear #20, Thanks for commenting - I'd like to address your points. (While I'm here, thank you so much everyone for the support/discussion!)

First, ghetto-izing, really? Religious students can attend a neutral graduation ceremony and can even pray at one. No one wants any restriction on the exercise of religion. I just don't want an official endorsement by an organization that's not in the business of choosing religions. The fact alone that this distinction is difficult for many reasonable people makes the issue discussion-worthy.

Incidentally, some religious groups already offer graduation-related ceremonies outside of the official ceremony. The religious students with whom I've spoken feel that these religion-specific ceremonies actually bear more importance, not less, than the generic one.

Apathy and resignation are common responses to pushes for change. Should we really be okay with a prayer just because we're "definitely used to" sitting through them? That sort of argument - that people who are systemically disrespected shouldn't care about being disrespected further because they're used to it - is deeply flawed. This one time when we are half the relevant population, can't we catch a break and be treated to an inclusive ceremony? Some feel only boredom during an official prayer, but for others there is more to it - just read all the comments. And yes, I view commitment to neutrality favorably when deciding where to donate my money.

Parents would only care if they expected a prayer and would notice its absence. Since state schools don't have a prayer, the assumption that prayer is an essential/expected part of a traditional graduation seems invalid. You make a good case that graduation is about tradition. As I stated originally, we must consider how essential the prayer is to maintaining that feel of tradition, and weigh it against the damage done.

Finally, I doubt it'd make headlines. Only those who read this op-ed would even notice. The substantive news would be, "Most nonreligious school in America decides to have as many official prayers as Texas state schools." "Most nonreligious school in America opts for Moment of Silence to include everyone." Some would spin it differently, but I think MIT would manage.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

I didnt say it was fair. Its decidedly unfair, as is life. I said it was utilitarian, which is a very different beast. Its a terrible shame that non-religious people are so marginalized by society that they would become used to sitting through ceremonies they dont believe in. But thems the breaks, and it would be very difficult to argue that the median harm to non-religious students from the benediction is anything more than trivial.

You bring up a good point about faith-specific ceremonies being more meaningful than the general one, but there is a lurking variable here: the nature of the service. I posit that a benediction at graduation itself is actually quite meaningful, and that that same benediction delivered elsewhere would be far less so. Faith-specific services are not the same as the benediction, so even though they can be comparatively more meaningful, that doesnt mean they act as a substitute for the general one.

And since the harm to non-religious students is so low, theres a pretty low bar for the benediction to meet in terms of benefits before it improves the collective good. I think it meets that bar handily.

If we could will a world into existence where non-religious people never had to put up with religious stuff in the first place, then it might be different. But if your aunt had balls, shed be your uncle. (Apologies to non-cis people.) In this poor, imperfect world, more people are made more happy by leaving the benediction the way it is.

James Duyck about 10 years ago

1. As an atheist, I'm pretty used to people saying I can just ignore religious intrusion into my life (not that that makes it right); but the whole God of Abraham, Jesus, and Mohammed thing seems like a slap in the face to all of the Hindus, Buddhists, Sikhs, Wiccans, Falun Gong practitioners etc. - it's like saying that those religions are less important than Islam or Judaism.

2. Does anyone know who we would write to about this? I sort of doubt that we could ask Chaplain Bob Randolph not to do the job that whoever organizes graduation is paying him to do. Well, I'd wait until after Friday to see if there's an official response in the Tech anyways...

Anonymous about 10 years ago

I'm disappointed that MIT does this during graduation. To the comment about 'harm to non-religious students being low', think about spending 5 or 6 years of your life working towards a PhD at an institution that you found to be a wonderfully nurturing home, only to discover that you are a second-class citizen the day you leave. I hope we get rid of this by the time I graduate.

Chris about 10 years ago

I have a hard time understanding why a one minute prayer at graduation would be so deeply offensive to some. I understand that there are students who don't believe in God who are present. But no one is forcing anyone to pray and no one is forcing anyone to believe in God, as Aaron eludes to in his editorial. Someone is simply praying on stage. One could simply view it as part of a performance that you are watching. Anyone with common sense would know that MIT is not endorsing a religion by having it's chaplain offer a prayer. And I also think its a rather extreme to claim that the ceremony is exclusive because of a one minute prayer. In fact I think the prayer makes the ceremony more inclusive. The atheist/agnostic worldview gets 99 of the classroom time and basically all of the graduation ceremony. Can't God get 1? Why is it so offensive that one little prayer is offered at graduation? Actually, I think the prayer reflects the diversity of students at MIT. And I would hope that people could be grateful that someone is praying for them whether or not they believe in God or prayer. For the agnostic (which is probably a high percentage of MIT), they certainly can't be offended. An agnostic has no strong stance against God. An agnostic claims neither belief, nor disbelief in God. I would think an agnostic would welcome a prayer offered on their behalf. You can use all the help you can get. If this prayer is removed for being offensive or exclusive then the administration should be consistent and remove the singing of the MIT's Alma Mater. For those in the audience who are religious this song could be offensive as it has lines such as "we join in praise to MIT" and "we pledge our love for thee." How dare the administration subject religious students to a song that worships MIT over God? How offensive and exclusive! It seems like MIT might be endorsing worship of it's self as a new religion. Okay, so hopefully you know I'm trying to make a point using satire. But I think it's good point. If you are going to remove the prayer because it's offensive, then you better remove everything else that might be offensive as well. There is no "neutral" option for the ceremony. There will always be a worldview presented in some form, and therefore some sort of belief system will be on display.

Chris about 10 years ago

continuation of previous post....

Aaron ends his editorial by stating that "Every segment and speaker in it should make an effort to ensure the ceremony belongs to each and every one of us." But it is impossible that everything in the graduation ceremony will meet the approval of everyone. Let's all just cool down and enjoy graduation. Censorship is not the way to go. Be logical and tolerant and don't overreact to one simple prayer. One short prayer doesn't make anyone a "second class citizen" (post number 24). Stop and actually think about for a minute. Besides, there are bigger things in life to worry about.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

First off, I really hope I don't have to see Chappy Randy's disrespectful self on my last day at MIT. Oh the flipside of that man.

Second, a one minute, wishy-washy prayer to gods a, b, c is extremely offensive and unacceptable to true and passionate believers in god.

Third, if you are a believer in the God of Jesus (and?) , then you would never sing a song pledging allegiance to a flag/country or about worshipping an institution.

Fourth, did the religious people spend an equal or greater amount of time worshipping as they did on clases? If not, I'm gonna guess God doesn't really endorse your diploma. (ok, that's pretty harsh, but not entirely false.)

Melih about 10 years ago

Well, perhaps we should discuss the idea of saying a prayer in the beginning of morning classes every day. If any change is needed, this is the direction it should be in. A community prayer once every year is certainly not too much, when MIT needs forgiveness for all the sins it collectively commits all other times.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

11, I understand your outrage and I agree with the need for something to change here, but publicly using the Commencement Ceremonies as a time for your protest seem very irresponsible and disrespectful for all those attending who have spent countless hours and put forth so much hard work to get to where they are. Yes, it is annoying to deal with a simple prayer when you do not agree with it, but this event is not the time or place to bring forth politics and make a celebratory experience into a tense/hostile/confrontational experience. If something is to be changed, the key to changing it is BEFORE the ceremony, not DURING the ceremony. Families and students have come to the ceremony to witness their loved ones take those steps across the stage and to celebrate their prize for all the hard work over the last 4 years - not to embroil themselves in the politics and arguments over religious vs non-religious. It's a time of celebration; not confrontation.

Anony about 10 years ago

Hey there good job there Tech in letting us know where the author is coming from when writing this article. He is a "graduate student in the Department of Earth, Atmospheric, and Planetary Sciences". You fail to call to attention his extreme bias on this matter as the president of the Secular Society of MIT.

I'm sure he is just looking for the best for everybody by removing the OPTION to pray. Yeah, I'm totally positive its not about furthering his own agenda. I'm quite confident he isn't trying to inject his own belief system on the ceremony.

He doesn't want to pray? Ok don't pray. He doesn't want to watch someone else pray? Sorry can't guarantee that one.

Anonymous about 10 years ago

As a Satanist and a member of the graduating class, I demand that MIT also acknowledge the supreme power of Lucifer in the Commencement prayer. I feel absolutely excluded by the preference shown to the the Abrahamic God, a hypothetical being who is at odds with much of what I stand for and believe in. Why should I have to feel like an outsider at my own graduation ceremony?

Hail Satan!

konig about 10 years ago


What does it matter if he's the president of the Secular Society of MIT? That makes an overwhelming amount of sense, as this is his opinion piece. Does he stand to make tons of money on this and gain power and influence? Nah.

Fewer than 50 of MIT students believe in God (http://tech.mit.edu/V132/N25/religion/year/). In that vein, it would make sense at next year's commencement for a speaker to offer a heartfelt reflection on our uncertainty / non-belief.

qwerasdf about 10 years ago

30: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Appeal_to_motive

Teresa Irizarry about 10 years ago


The founding fathers did not separate religion from state to keep religion from become divisive. Rather they did it because the state is incompetent to judge what is true worship, and to OPEN a debate. It is in the public expression of each person's conscience and in the open debate that sharpens conscience that they believed truth would be found. More true to them would not be an invocation "in the middle" designed not to spark debate, but rather a heartfelt statement from one or many.