Four years ago Debbie Sudhoff was attending an Alcoa High School baccalaureate service, and her daughter Caroline enjoyed the event so much, she couldn’t wait to attend her own.
But Heritage High School didn’t have such a service.
So Debbie set out to change that, and, in the process, found widespread support for the idea.
All it needed was a leader.
When her daughter talked about how much she enjoyed attending the service for an Alcoa friend, “I plugged that away in my memory bank,” said Debbie. “Then last fall I realized how little time we had, and that is when I started working on it.”
Sudhoff said she asked Raymond Burnett, pastor at Mt. Lebanon Baptist Church, to see if there had ever been a worship service to celebrate the graduates at Heritage High School. “He said, ‘No,’ and that it would be a great idea to have one,” she said.
Debbie Sudhoff then spoke with Don Talbott because he had two girls who graduated from Heritage High School. “I wanted to get his input and he, in turn, approached East Maryville Baptist Church to see if they would be willing to hold it there,” she said.
Sudhoff also recruited Judy Clabough, community outreach coordinator for the Blount Memorial Foundation and Community Outreach, and Jason Salyer, associate pastor at East Maryville Baptist Church
Salyer said he had thought about a baccalaureate service at Heritage High School before Sudhoff contacted him so his wheels were already turning.
“My wife and I live near Heritage High School, and we have talked with students at other schools where they have a baccalaureate service. We wondered why Heritage didn’t have a service, and thought, ‘We should look into that,’” he said. “As things turned out, God had been working in Debbie and others on the parents’ side, putting the wheels in motion. It was great timing. There was interest by parents we didn’t know, and we were all having the same type of conversation.”
Salyer said a baccalaureate service is a community-wide event that honors the achievements of the graduates and their families in a setting of a local church. “It doesn’t always have to be in a local church, but the context of where we are in Blount County is the schools are made up of students who have families who are a part of the community, and the church is made up of families who make up the community,” he said. “It is a coming together of the two.”
Sudhoff praised East Maryville Baptist Church for being willing to hold the service at their church. “They’ve been phenomenal and supportive and have stressed to our committee this is a community baccalaureate service and not an East Maryville Baptist baccalaureate service. It is not their church’s program,” she said. “It is the students’ program and service. They’re basically giving their house in which to hold the service. They don’t want it to be denominational. They want it to be a student-led community program.”
Salyer said students at the school and on the committee are excited about the upcoming service. “The students are hanging up signs and doing advertising at the school, and they’ve sent a printed invitation home that went out with graduation announcements for all the seniors,” he said. “We’ve been trying to promote it any way we can.”
Sudhoff said 16 students have been involved on the committee. “It has been phenomenal. The kids are so excited and have come up with so many ideas for how they want to do things,” she said.
The students and adults on the committee have met every couple of weeks at the church. “We have sophomores, juniors and seniors on the committee and their participation will propel it through the next few years,” Debbie said. “These juniors and sophomores also will serve as ushers.”
Salyer said the students feel they’re doing something historic for the school. “For the seniors, not only are they excited about having the baccalaureate service, but there’s the added excitement of being the ones who paved the way for future years of celebration.”
Sudhoff said some of the Heritage Singers are scheduled to sing, Shades of Grace, a Christian band in Blount County, will perform and Steve Radford, the pianist at Maryville First Baptist Church, will be the accompanist. “One of the students will do the senior welcome and invitation. It is real exciting to see what the kids are doing,” she said. “The kids have designed the cover of the program. It is just really neat.”
Sudhoff said what committee members don’t know is how many will show for the service. “We are hoping and praying that we will be overwhelmed by the number of students who come, but since it is a new event, we don’t know what to expect,” she said. “I have not had a negative comment from anyone within the community.”
Sudhoff said the class of 2011 has started a new tradition for Heritage High School. “They are leaving a legacy behind that Christ is important, and they want classmates to know they have a relationship with God,” she said. “I think it is so important these kids know they have a community that loves and supports them and will be here for them.”
The inaugural Heritage High School baccalaureate service is set for 6 p.m. Sunday, May 15, at East Maryville Baptist Church. Scheduled speaker is Nick Reveiz, former UT linebacker.