Hardwick asked the men in the audience to take off their hats and then he petitioned the Lord:
“Thank you for helping us get here safely today, Lord,” he prayed. “And thank you for the many blessings you’ve given us because we are a very talented class. Will you watch over us … into the graduation night? And help us remember no matter what happens good or bad in the days to come, that it is for your divine purpose. In Jesus’ name. Amen.”
Many audience members echoed that “Amen” and began applauding.
The Advocate-Messenger reports that six students, including at least one atheist, had pleaded with school officials to stop the planned prayer. Atheist activist Ricky Smith, who attended the ceremony, argued that it violated the rights of non-Christian graduates.
Principal Tim Godbey, who says he personally prays for each of his students daily, said faculty members are not allowed to pray publicly on school grounds or at school-sponsored functions, but students can do so as long as they are not otherwise disruptive.