Dec. 14, 2006
Graduating students at HACC, Central Pennsylvania's Community College, will get more than the typical commencement speech Monday evening. They will hear from a former HACC student who once called himself a "late bloomer," admitting he didn't like high school, had few interests, little focus and didn't know what he wanted to do with his life.

The Rt. Rev. Dr. Nathan D. Baxter, the tenth bishop of the Episcopal Diocese in Central Pennsylvania, will present the commencement address for HACC's 42nd Annual Commencement, Winter Ceremony, Dec. 18 at 7 p.m.

Approximately 575 students from HACC's campuses in Harrisburg, Lancaster, Lebanon and Gettysburg, as well as the York Center, are expected to graduate, pending final grades. The winter commencement ceremony takes place in Cooper Student Center on the Harrisburg Campus of HACC.

"It makes us especially proud when we have former students like Bishop Baxter who continued their education, and in his case, became a national icon," said HACC President Dr. Edna E. Baehre.

"Our students will learn their education has no limits from a man who started his education at HACC, then came to prominence in the Episcopal Church and gained his reputation as the Dean of the National Cathedral in Washington, D.C.," said Baehre.

Long the place for services of national focus, the Cathedral has served as the host for visits by dignitaries and state funerals. For more than a decade, Baxter was at the center of such services.

The third generation Pennsylvania clergyman led the National Day of Prayer and Remembrance Service following the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001, and officiated at the memorial service for the crew of the space shuttle, Columbia.

He presided over funerals and memorial services of many prominent Americans, as well as the American memorial service for Princess Diana. He led the worship service at President George W. Bush's first inaugural ceremony.

He also became a noted commentator on faith and national issues, serves on the Faith and Politics Institute affiliated with the U.S. House of Representatives and has been a frequent guest on national news programs including Good Morning America and NBC's Today.

A native of Harrisburg, the seat of the diocese, Baxter attended HACC from 1967 until 1972 studying liberal arts and the social sciences. He went on to graduate from the Lancaster Theological Seminary (LTS) in 1976. After canonical studies at the diocesan school of Christian Studies, he was ordained deacon in June 1977 and priest the following December. He also earned a Doctorate of Ministry Degree from LTS in 1984.

Baxter is a decorated veteran of the Vietnam War, having received the Vietnam Cross of Gallantry with Palm and the Combat Medic's Badge. He has received numerous distinguished honors from colleges, universities and seminaries including seven honorary doctorates.

He also has served as both a faculty member and administrator at the Episcopal Divinity School in Cambridge, Mass., seminary dean and associate professor at LTS, and chaplain and professor of religious studies at St. Paul's College in Lawrenceville, VA. He remains a member of the adjunct faculty at LTS.

Despite the national attention and reputation Baxter gained as a leader in Washington, he longed to return to traditional parish ministry and to his home in Central Pennsylvania. In 2003, he fulfilled that dream when he became rector of St. James Episcopal Church, Lancaster, the largest parish in the Diocese.

In October, Baxter was elected to replace the retiring bishop of Central Pennsylvania and now leads more than 16,000 Episcopalians represented in the 71 parishes and one mission of the Diocese.

Anglican Archbishop Desmond Tutu, one of the many world leaders Baxter met through his time at the National Cathedral, came to Harrisburg to preach at the service in which Baxter was consecrated as a bishop.

Among his publications are Visions for the Millennium and the award winning Challenge and Comfort: A Pastor's Thoughts for a Troubled Nation, as well as numerous sermons and essays on faith and public life.

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