Graduation Moved To First United Methodist Church

by Isabella Waldron

With only three weeks left of school, the surprises haven’t stopped coming.

On Monday, Jordan announced that graduation, traditionally held at Trinity Cathedral — under major renovations — will now be taking place at the First United Methodist Church.

Initially, I thought that this was another joke from the Upper School staff, and that we would quickly all be released to play on bouncy houses at the field. But it we realized very quickly that there would be no bouncy houses, and that this change would mean different things to different seniors.

Many students have been picturing themselves in their robes at Trinity for years, so it came as a shock to hear that only three weeks away, this image would have to shift.

Calla S. who has been at OES for 13 years, says, “It originally didn’t bother me that much but the more I thought about it, the more I got sad about it. While the space in the new church is beautiful as well, there’s so much excitement and tradition around Trinity.”

Trevor J., who entered OES his freshman year says, “The only thing that I was a little upset about was the fact that [the news came] so late, so we have to resend the graduation invitations and change all that. But as long as it’s a space that I can graduate in, I don’t really care because Trinity doesn’t mean anything to me personally.”

Even Head of the Upper School Jordan Elliott expressed his sadness about the change, saying “I’m really disappointed on a couple of levels. I’m disappointed for you as graduates because Trinity has been the place to go for decades….This is my last graduation too, so I had been envisioning [commencement] at Trinity.”

The tradition of graduating at Trinity began on June 6th, 1934 — a church at the time, not a cathedral. At this commencement ceremony for St. Helen’s Hall, Bishop Benjamin Wistar Morris wished that “our daughters should be as the polished corners of the temple.”

His rhetoric has informed our mission and standards, as OES now preps student to become these same pillars of community and to realize “their power for good as citizens of local and world communities.”

Graduating at Trinity is also probably the biggest reminder we have of our connection to the Episcopal tradition. Yes, we go to chapel each Tuesday — but nothing is as directly connected to the Episcopal religion as our graduation location.

Underneath the sculpted ceiling of Trinity, the rich roots of the school’s ideology and practices are evident. According to VJ Sathyaraj, OES is different because of our ties to a religion that is often at the forefront of major struggles in the nation for civil rights and inclusion. If we lose Trinity as a commencement location, do we lose our reminder of these practices?

I would argue that most students are upset not over the loss of connection to Episcopalian heritage, but the loss of that beautiful image they have cultivated for so many weeks, months, and years.

From the first graduation I attended in Sophomore year, I could picture myself walking up to the stage among the opulent interior. Trinity is a grand building, with a majestic pipe organ and stone passageways which make for great pictures with grandparents and out-of-town guests.

The architecture inspires a grand awe which graduates cling to as they make their way through the dread slump of second-semester senioritis. As seniors, we are preparing for huge changes in our lives, so it comes as no shock that people are shaken by one more change thrown into the pile.

As Jordan pointed out, it is fairly ironic that, after all the upheavals and changes this Senior class has experienced, we would be the ones to break with the Trinity tradition. Jordan says, “For your grade in particular, I was sad. I heard the news and I thought, ‘Really? Another thing this year?’”

I found that Jordan was not alone in this sentiment, after talking to many of my chagrined classmates. I thought about the issue more, however, and with further thought and reflection, I tried to see this break from tradition as positive.

We are not a class of people that cling to tradition. In fact, in our four years at the OES Upper School, many members of our class have been leaders in change who work tirelessly to shift our school’s traditions and create something better and more suited to the current needs of students. The shift in venue does not represent our failures as a class, but our successes.

The First United Methodist church meets our needs for graduation. The venue was chosen from the numerous churches in Portland because it can fit all the traditional parts of the commencement ceremony.

It has air conditioning for overdressed guests, more space for random 180 family members from Wyoming, and hosts events such as the Oregon Symphony auditions, and performances from the Oregon Repertory singers and many other musical groups.

More than that, the First United Methodist Church in Portland has been at the forefront of inclusion, particularly in issues of sexual orientation and gender identity. The church has a homeless shelter and is extremely active in social work in the Portland community.

The front page of the website for the church makes this clear, announcing “As a Reconciling Congregation, all are welcome to participate in the full life of the church, including all races, abilities, ages, classes, gender identities, and sexual orientations.

Jordan points out that, “In the long run, what happens in the ceremony and the connections you guys make with each other and the community are more important than the actual place. I’m confident you will remember each other, not the location.”

Perhaps it is appropriate that this senior grade will be remembered as the class that broke tradition and somehow still made it through the very last refrain of Lift High the Cross before walking off the stage — wherever that stage might be — with diplomas in hand.