Approximately 2,000 Niagara Catholic students in the Class of 2016 came together at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls on May 19, for the Board’s annual Graduation Celebration.
This event marks the pinnacle of the Catholic education of Niagara Catholic’s graduating class each year, and includes a special prayer service led by Bishop Gerard Bergie, and a keynote address to graduates.
Upon welcoming the Class of 2016, Director of Education John Crocco reminded students of the tremendous responsibility that comes with being an alumnus of their Catholic secondary school, and of Niagara Catholic.
“Graduates, once you cross the stage next month, you will be referred to as an alumnus of your Catholic secondary school and our Board,” said Mr. Crocco. “With that comes the pride to be part of the alumni of your school; the responsibilities which come with it to be an active witness of your faith, to promote the excellence of your Catholic educational experience and the invitation to stay connected with your roots and those who guided your formation as a person.”
In conclusion, Director Crocco offered students a challenge.
“Your task is to make our world better than it is today; to be the difference you want to see in our world. That is your challenge, Class of 2016,” he said. “My prayer for all of you is to be strong witnesses of our faith and of Catholic education; to be committed, be faithful and be the person God called you to be, and to make a real impact on our world as a Catholic graduate.”
During his address to students, Bishop Bergie advised graduates to ask themselves “how will what I have learned make me a better person?”
Bishop Bergie reminded students that doing so is not being egotistical; it’s being honest with themselves. He recounted the many lessons students have learned about God and their relationship with Him, and of the many blessings they have through their Catholic faith, including a Father who loves them without question; a friend, a brother in Jesus who will never let them down and will always tell them what they need to hear; a mother in Mary, who will always be their champion; and the “communion of saints, who are not to be remote, but to be role models. They’re the greatest alumni, they’re there rooting for us, cheering us on. They’re showing us, ‘you can do it, because I did.’”
Bishop Bergie also cautioned against falling victim to discouragement, and to challenge those who would speak against the value of a Catholic education.
“Challenge naysayers in a Christian way,” he said. “Don’t attack the person, but attack the flaws in their argument. If someone tells you that Catholic schools are no good, stand up and tell them ‘you’re wrong, and I’ll tell you why you’re wrong, because I am a product of Catholic education and I am doing good in this world.’ Stand proud, and never be afraid to say I am a graduate of Niagara Catholic.”
This year’s guest speaker was Marcel LeJeune, Assistant Director of Campus Ministry at St. Mary’s Catholic Center at Texas A&M University in Texas.
During his 30-minute presentation, Mr. LeJeune focused on telling students to avoid being among the 80 per cent of Catholic youth in North America who fell away from their faith, and to look at God for who He is.
“When I was younger, I thought God was like a cop with a radar gun, who’s going to zap us when we sin and I’m going to get pulled over and feel guilty,” he said. “And then I thought of God like a kind of cosmic vending machine in the sky, and I tailored my prayers to what I wanted or needed; like to the teddy bear God, that I would pull out when things go wrong, or a God who is a clock of the world who is a removed God. Forty per cent of Catholics in North America do not believe God is a personal God, but that is what God is.”
Following Mr. LeJeune’s speech, Bishop Bergie offered students an Apostolic Blessing. Each student will receive the gift a bracelet bearing the ancient inscriptions for Christ, and at their graduation ceremonies in June will receive a special letter from Pope Francis.
At the end of the celebration, two students in the Class of 2016 received the Niagara Catholic Student Senate Award, $500 scholarships to assist them with their post-secondary educations. As always, the selection committee had only the students’ Ontario Education Number as identification, to ensure that the selection was based entirely upon their credentials. Lee Hiu Ying Agnes, a student at Saint Paul Catholic High School and Thomas Dedinsky, a student at
Saint Francis Catholic Secondary School, are the 2016 recipients.
Mr. LeJeune was also the keynote speaker for Niagara Catholic’s Partners in Catholic Education event at the Americana. In his address to parents and administrators, Mr. LeJeune spoke passionately about preserving the gift of Catholic education, which we are so fortunate to have in Ontario.