Seniors at Gar-Field, Hylton and Potomac high schools have chosen to spend one of their last high school days together.
The schools are holding a free, joint baccalaureate at Hylton Chapel at 2 p.m. tomorrow, the first time they have come together for such an event.
A baccalaureate is a sermon to a graduating class. Though not mandatory, the organizers hope the event will unite the community as well as the seniors, many of whom knew each other in middle school but were divided as school boundaries sent them to different high schools.
"I'm honored actually that they asked me to speak," said Lesley O'Neill, 18, Hylton's senior class president, who is also speaking at her high school graduation.
"Speaking at baccalaureate is even more important because I'm speaking to more than one school. And having it be a religious ceremony makes it mean a lot for me, too," said O'Neill, who said she plans to attend James Madison University and major in psychology.
Denise Williams, senior class president at Potomac, said some of her classmates wanted to have an event just for their school. She convinced them that Hylton Chapel would be a more luxurious venue for the event.
"This is something I've been wanting to happen for the longest time, especially in Hylton Chapel. It's a beautiful chapel," said Williams, 18. She also plans to attend JMU and said she wants to major in computer science.
The baccalaureate program has been organized in a way that chorales and bands from all three schools can perform and seniors from each of the high schools will have a chance at the microphone.
The sermon will be given by the Rev. Charles A. Chilton, pastor of Grace Baptist Church in Woodbridge. He said he will tell the seniors that their next phase in their lives should be spent on spiritual development.
"From my perspective, it's good because I'm going to get in their face," Chilton said. "Kids don't get challenged enough in this generation."
Chilton, who has participated in other baccalaureates for Hylton High School, said he was excited about the opportunity to reach out to students he wouldn't normally see.
"I know deep down there will be kids who would not normally go who will this time because it's a bigger deal. I think that's an opportunity for me," Chilton said.
Jay Bapple, a former school board member who has children who attended Gar-Field, was one of the parent volunteers behind the joint baccalaureate. Gar-Field has held its baccalaureates in Hylton Chapel and found its smaller attendance was dwarfed by the surroundings.
Bapple said he doesn't know how many students to expect, but hopes that they do take the time to come.
"This is something very special," Bapple said. "I don't remember what was said at my baccalaureate, but I remember being there."
Honora Wagreich, a Potomac parent, also helped organize the event.
"We thought there's no better experience for students going off to college or work than to do something together as a community," Wagreich said.
Seniors from the other county high schools, private schools or home schools also are welcome to the event and are asked to wear their caps and gowns.