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Previous Challenge Entry
Topic: Graduation (08/30/04)

By Marie B. Corso


My high school advisor fidgeted with her copy of my graduation address, groping for words. Finally, she said something like: “Marie, we like your graduation speech very much, but, unfortunately, it can’t be used. We will have Jewish people in the audience and they will be offended at what you say about Jesus Christ. Your speech must be acceptable to everyone and not offend anyone. If you leave out those references, you will be one of the graduation speakers.”

I was not caught by surprise. Nobody had to tell me the speech wouldn’t be used. At our graduation, several people were given the opportunity to make addresses in addition to the valedictorian and salutatorian. My grade point average placed me in third place, a high position to be chosen for one of the additional addresses, that is, if my material met the advisors’ standards. I had included in my address a clear statement of thanksgiving to Jesus Christ for His help through my high school years.

“I am sorry,” I said, “but I can’t change my address.” I don’t remember the reason I gave -- if I gave her one at all. She tried to dissuade me. I remained unmoved, and another graduate was chosen to make the speech.

I was 18. I wish I knew then how to defend my faith. I would have replied to her differently. I would have said, “Miss Woods, I am a Christian. That’s not my religion, that’s my life. For me to change my speech and leave out the part of my speech that gives glory to Jesus Christ would constitute denying Christ. For a Christian, that’s unthinkable. I would offend Jesus Christ, my Savior. I can’t and I won’t.”

I never regretted that decision. Though I wasn’t a strong Christian at the time, that decision was a building plank in my character. It felt good to stand up for what I believed.

I have made friends within the last two years with a wonderful Jewish woman. My friend and I have had many discussions about what we believe. She had some unfortunate experiences with Christians through the years, but also has developed good Christian friends. She calls me a “genuine” Christian. I am honored.

One day, she called me spewing and sputtering after she returned from a PTA meeting where the woman in charge prayed in Jesus’ name. She said, “Can you believe it? There was a Muslim woman with her shawl on right on the front row, and she had to know there were Jewish people in the audience. Couldn’t she just pray to God? That wouldn’t have offended anyone.”

Gently, after I let her vent, I talked. “You are asking this woman to deny one of the most important elements of her faith. She is instructed to pray in Jesus’ name. All Christians are. Would you want someone to tell you that you must eat pork or that the synagogue will be locked and barred on Saturday? It’s basic. Would you expect a Muslim not to mention Allah?” I did say that perhaps the woman could have prefaced her remarks by saying she was a Christian and would pray in Jesus’ name because that is the practice of her faith. After 30 minutes, we hung up amicably. She is a strong woman, one of the things that make her such a good friend. And, she listens and tries to understand.

Recently, I read a book on the subject of pluralism and the Christian’s response to it. I learned from the author that I am to be the messenger. The Holy Spirit is the one who changes lives. I can’t do His work and He won’t do mine.

Now, almost 50 years later, I wish I could go back to that day my high school advisor confronted me. I would like to tell her, “Yes, I will change my speech. I will insert this paragraph: I am a Christian. Because I am a Christian, the next few sentences I will say relate to my experience with Jesus Christ. I realize some of you may not be Christians, but this is who I am. Please don’t ask me to be someone I am not. And, I promise you the same courtesy when you give your speech.”

Member Comments
Member Date
darlene hight09/07/04
Great message!
Theresa Knight09/07/04
You are a strong Christian. You proved that by not changing you spech. Good job!
B Price09/07/04
applausing your actions for sticking to your believes... GOOD FOR YOU.
YOU was BLESSED by this action.
continue to stick to your guns and you will always be bless.
B Price09/07/04
after entering my comment I looked to see who it was that wrote it, after I realize it was you... I thought to myself I should of have know...
again YOU Did a wonderful piece.. as I always have enjoyed reading your stories..
L.M. Lee09/08/04
Yes, it's almost like going to an AA meeting and declaring you're an alcoholic. No one thinks that's wrong. We need to be honest about who we are. People may not agree with us, but at least they will respect us, even if they hate us.
Lynda Lee Schab 09/08/04
Excellent! This was a wonderful story, written extremely well. A great read - I truly enjoyed every word.
Blessings, Lynda
Karen O'Leary09/08/04
Wow! What courage for an 18 year old. Faith truly is a way of life. Good message!