Perhaps you have received an email message containing the following story:
They walked in tandem, each of the ninety-three students filing into the already crowded auditorium. With rich maroon gowns flowing and the traditional caps, they looked almost as grown up as they felt. Dads swallowed hard behind broad smiles, and moms freely brushed away tears. This class would not pray during the commencements, not by choice but because of a recent court ruling prohibiting it.
The principal and several students were careful to stay within the guidelines allowed by the ruling. They gave inspirational and challenging speeches, but no one mentioned divine guidance and no one asked for blessings on the graduates or their families.
The speeches were nice, but they were routine until the final speech received a standing ovation. A solitary student walked proudly to the microphone. He stood still and silent for just a moment, and then it happened. All 92 students… suddenly SNEEZED!
The student on stage simply looked at the audience and said, "GOD BLESS YOU…" And he walked off stage. The audience exploded into applause. The graduating class found a unique way to invoke God's blessing on their future with or without the court's approval.
The following addendum is usually given at the conclusion -- "This is a true story; it happened at the University of Maryland."
As is my habit when receiving such emails, I checked out the story at SNOPES.COM (dedicated to separating fact from fiction on the web), and sure enough, the story is NOT EXACTLY AUTHENTIC. However, in this case, the REAL STORY is just as inspirational, if not more so. The facts are as follows…
The incident took place on 20 May 2001 during the commencement exercises at Washington Community High School in Washington, Illinois. With help from the ACLU, the family of Natasha Appenheimer (that year's valedictorian) brought suit to prevent the inclusion of the invocation and benediction traditionally given at the school's commencement ceremony. The suit was decided in the favor of the Appenheimers, and the court handed down a temporary injunction barring the inclusion of the prayers at the graduation.
People were angered by the decision, which overturned an 80 year tradition at Washington Community High.
Undeterred, many found ways of protesting the judge's ruling. Before the ceremony, students organized a prayer vigil around the school's flagpole. Some 50 seniors clasped hands in a circle while about 150 underclassmen and members of the community encircled them. Several students festooned their mortarboards with religious slogans: "I'm praying now," "Amen," "1 nation under God," and "I will pray 2-day." One parent distributed 120 homemade wood-and-nail crosses among the students.
Yet it was the act of Ryan Brown, a member of the graduating class who was scheduled to speak during the event, which really got everyone’s attention. As his form of protest, he had worked it out with a handful of friends that when he faked a sneeze at the podium, they were to yell out "God bless you." The plan was carried out, with everyone playing their assigned parts. Ryan also made another protest on his way to the podium — he stopped to bow in silent prayer, an act that prompted the audience to stand and applaud. He replied to the crowd, "Don't applaud for me, applaud for God."
Sometimes truth is stranger than fiction… but in this case, THE TRUTH IS EVEN BETTER!
“I have proclaimed the good news of righteousness in the great assembly; indeed, I do not restrain my lips, O LORD…” (Psalm 40:9)
Jesus, always Jesus!