Finding Meaning

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Climbing Everest

By Skip Hellewell
By Skip Hellewell

It’s graduation season.  Laguna Beach High students gathered for baccalaureate service last Sunday.  Baccalaureate services have a long history, dating to the 14thcentury at Oxford University.  It’s a religious service, kept apart from school to respect our separation of church and state.  Laguna Presbyterian’s lovely chapel was the site.  Local preachers had a role, but our students were the stars.

Two read from the good book:  Matthew Ghere read St. Paul’s familiar words on love (charity), which finishes, “And now abideth faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love.”  Jordan Meiswinkel also read St. Paul, about seeking whatever is true, honest, just, pure, lovely, of excellence, or commendable.

Two delivered talks:  Meg Peterson, who came here as a senior, spoke about the growth of her faith amid the challenge of a new school, observing “there is no comfort in the growth zone, and no growth in the comfort zone.”  Garrett Tyler, noting the importance of village in a child’s life, observed that he had never walked alone: “You have been with me all along.”

Students attending the high school baccalaureate service: front row, from left, Arianne Nugent, Savanah Johnson, Mila Kellam, Jordan Meiswinkle, Meg Peterson; second row, Shea Skenderian, Alden Kramer, Kelly Keller, Katrina Jacobs; third row, Garrett Tyler, Charles Keller, Guy Thomas, John Langton; fourth row, Joseph Sweet, Tobin Herr, Jack Raffo, Jayden Orr, Sawyer Chesley; fifth row, Blake Hawkins, Grady Morgan, Matthew Ghere. Photo by Juliette Cheslet.



And two sang:  Savanah Johnson sang the spiritual, “Amazing Grace,” with such feeling that each word became a poem.  Jamie Langner sang “Laurie’s Song,” an ode to the adventure that beckons beyond the comforting confines of childhood.  Sawyer Chesley, headed to a two-year church mission in Chile and then a baseball scholarship at Harvard, delivered the benediction.

These are remarkable kids, but life is harder for some.  The Beautiful Wife and I attended two grandchild high school graduations, one locally and one in D.C. at stately Constitution Hall.  At each, honorary degrees were awarded to families of deceased classmates. The loss of the young is most difficult, especially if by suicide.  But we did hear an encouraging story at the D.C. graduation, told by Los Angeles Times columnist Robin Abcarian, who was also there for a grandchild.

Hakeen Howard auditioned to speak at his high school commencement ceremony.  Though a struggling student, he had a story he thought worth sharing:  His recovery from anxiety, depression, and mental breakdown. Classmates didn’t know Howard was institutionalized last summer, until they heard it in his speech. Howard told of a critical visit by a friend’s father who compared life to climbing Mt. Everest.  You can’t climb Mt. Everest alone, the father coached him, you need a support team. Life can be like Mt. Everest—you need your team, your village.  Going it alone is perilous.

I especially liked Howard’s closing counsel: “Fight for what you believe in . . . but when you’re at your lowest point, contact the people you love.”  And the wisdom of one who had hit bottom but could see better days ahead:  “The mountain you conquer is really your own self-doubt.” (You can hear Howard’s speech on YouTube : “Hakeem Howard Graduation Speech.”)

Yes, it’s graduation season.  Kids everywhere are climbing their Everest with a little help from their team.

Skip fell in love with Laguna on a ‘50s surfing trip.  He’s a student of Laguna history and the author of “Loving Laguna: A Local’s Guide to Laguna Beach.”  Email: [email protected]


Places to worship (all on Sunday, unless noted):

Baha’i’s of Laguna Beach—contact [email protected] for events and meetings.

Chabad Jewish Center, 30804 S. Coast Hwy, Fri. 6 p.m., Sat. 10:30 a.m., Sun. 8 a.m.

Church by the Sea, 468 Legion St., 9 & 10:45 a.m.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints (Mormon), 682 Park Ave., 10 a.m.

First Church of Christ, Scientist, 635 High Dr., 10 a.m.

ISKCON (Hare Krishna), 285 Legion St., 5 p.m., with 6:45 feast.

Jehovah’s Witnesses, 20912 Laguna Canyon Rd., 1:00 p.m.

Laguna Beach Net-Works, 286 St. Ann’s Dr., 10 a.m.

Laguna Presbyterian, 415 Forest Ave., 8:30 & 10 a.m.

Neighborhood Congregational Church (UCC), 340 St. Ann’s Drive, 10 a.m.

United Methodist Church, 21632 Wesley, 10 a.m.

St. Catherine of Siena (Catholic), 1042 Temple Terrace, 7:30, 9, 11, 1:30 p.m. (Spanish), 5:30 p.m.  There are 8 a.m. masses on other days and Saturday 5:30 p.m. vigils.

St. Francis by the Sea (American Catholic), 430 Park, 9:30 a.m.

St. Mary’s Episcopal Church, 428 Park Ave., 8 & 10:30 a.m.

Unitarian Universalist, 429 Cypress St., 10:30 a.m.



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  1. I’m the mom of Hakeem Howard. Thank you so much so including my sons story in your article. Him sharing his journey knowing that it’s helping other people is truly a blessing. We appreciate you spreading the word and the message that we are not alone when it comes to depression and mental illness.


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