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A baccalaureate service (or, baccalaureate Mass in the case of institutions affiliated with the Catholic Church and its religious institutes) is a celebration which honors a graduating senior class from a college or high school. The event is typically a Christianity-based interdenominational service, though it may also be of a strictly Catholic nature.
The service is held within a few days of the graduation and/or commencement ceremony, perhaps on the Sunday before, the day preceding, or immediately preceding the graduation. Speakers selected tend to be community leaders, faculty members, students, or local religious leaders, and may be elected by the graduating class. Speeches are often intermixed with musical performances, drama, and worship. Baccalaureate addresses can range in length from under half an hour to as long as four hours.
The baccalaureate service derives from the medieval European custom of presenting the candidates for the degree of Bachelor (bacca) with laurels (lauri) of sermonic oration. The Baccalaureate ceremony is a service of worship in celebration of and thanksgiving for lives dedicated to learning and wisdom.
The baccalaureate service is believed to have originated at the University of Oxford in 1432 when each bachelor was required to deliver a sermon in Latin as part of his academic requirements. Since the earliest universities in America were founded primarily to educate ministers, the British practice of the baccalaureate service was continued.
Because of United States Supreme Court rulings[specify] regarding the separation of church and state, baccalaureate services are not official, school-sponsored events at American public schools. However, many have student-initiated services at private facilities not paid for with government funds, and as such are fully permitted by law. Until recent years, school-sponsored baccalaureate services were common in American public schools, on school grounds.
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