Niagara Catholic’s 18th Annual Graduation Celebration took place at the Gale Centre in Niagara Falls May 17. The nearly 2,000 students who comprise the Class of 2018 attended, along with members of Senior Staff, principals and trustees.
This event, organized by the Niagara Catholic Student Senate, is a key part of a student’s graduating year. This year, Student Senate Co-Chairs Hannah Tummillo and Nico Tripodi asked classmates who they would like to deliver the keynote address, and students overwhelmingly chose Father Tony Ricard, who first became associated with Niagara Catholic a decade ago when he spoke at the 2008 Graduation Celebration, to deliver the message.
Father Tony returns to Niagara Catholic annually to speak at our Grade 7 Festival of Faith. The Class of 2018 was the first class to participate in the Festival six years ago.
The day began with a message from Saint Michael Catholic High School Principal Ken Griepsma, who, along with Notre Dame College School Principal Ralph DeFazio oversee the elementary and secondary Student Senates.
Father Paul MacNeil, Chair of the Board, spoke about the “major milestone” of leaving behind 14 years of formal education.
“As you enter the next stage of your live, we join you in giving thanks for all of the gifts that God has given you, the opportunity for you to discover these gifts, and also to share them with others, and for the opportunity to follow whatever path God has prepared for you, because that is the true path to peace,” he said.
In his remarks, Director of Education John Crocco reflected on the recently released Pastoral Letter, Renewing the Promise, and congratulated Bishop Bergie on being the lead author and also on the 34th anniversary of his ordination, which had passed a few days before. He also congratulated the Notre Dame College School Jazz Band which performed at the event, and had won a Silver medal at the Nationals, then led the students and staff in attendance in wishing Sister Mary Kay Camp, who leads the Office of Religious Education at the Diocese, a happy 75th birthday.
Sister was presented with flowers by the student trustees and feted with Happy Birthday, before Director Crocco resumed his remarks to the Class of 2018.
“Fourteen years ago, you entered Kindergarten through one door. Now, as graduates, you will exit through many doors into 2,000 unique journeys. You will decide which direction you want to go. You will decide which roads you want to explore. You will do many things as you depart through these many doors, and you will be fully immersed in a very secular society where the teachings you have received through our faith and our teachers and our schools will be that very clear compass that will guide you,” he said.
Director Crocco summarized his comments by noting that students will walk into a world that needs their unique gifts and talents, and the blessings that they received throughout their Catholic educations.
“You will enter into a world, graduates, that will need more of what you bring to it. Our collective future depends on your individual success. Be the change that you want to see. Be that difference.”
Bishop Bergie’s remarks stemmed from the theme of the Pastoral Letter, the story of the Road to Emmaus, where the disciples unknowingly meet the risen Lord but did not recognize Him until He opened their eyes. Bishop Bergie pointed out that Christ did not cast them away or write them off as foolish.
“He took the time to accompany them and to walk with them, and that’s what happens every day in our Catholic schools,” said Bishop Bergie. “We walk together and we encounter Jesus Christ and that Lord comes to us and sets our hearts on fire so that we do have hope, so that we will not give up, so that we will understand that there will be a new tomorrow and a new beginning. That is such an important message, and I think that is the gift of Catholic education.”
Bishop Bergie challenged graduates to be those disciples who went out and shared the Good News, and to be beacons of light in the world.
“May what you have experienced at Niagara Catholic stay with you for the rest of your life and help you to transform this world, and simply, but importantly, bring a message of hope,” he said.
When he took the stage for his keynote address, Father Tony shared a number of anecdotes about his life as a Catholic man and priest, and also shared a story of trust and faith, centered on an eagle trying to convince two young eaglets who had been raised by chickens that they were destined to soar out of an eagles’ nest.
“You see the problem was, no matter what (the old eagle) said; no matter what (the old eagle) did, until a brother believed in his mind and his heart he was an eagle, he would always be a chicken,” said Father Tony.
He then spoke about the trust that parents and educators need to have in students as they leave the metaphorical eagles’ nest to begin their next journey.
“There comes a time when a young man or a young lady reaches an age where we now have to trust them with the greatest gift that God has given us, the gift of you,” said Father Tony. We have to be able to trust you with you.
He cautioned students to be wary of what may seem like temporary, fun diversions after they leave school, because they often become permanent, and urged students to push beyond their quest for excellence and strive to be elite.
“In the Catholic school system, we are preparing you not only to be excellent, but to be elite. You have to be elite in this society to achieve greatness. Part of the prayer of the school system is that they have prepared you to be even greater than excellent; prepared you for a new level for of light, of faith and of courage.”
As he concluded, Father Tony returned to the message he offers Grade 7 students about their reason for existing – to know him, to love him and to serve him.
“I promise you that each one of you has very specific reason for why God made you, and your challenge is to ask God who does he need you to be. May you be as happy in doing what God needs you to do, as I have been for the past 20-plus years as a Roman Catholic priest. May he give you the courage to do what God needs you and not what the world is calling you to do, and may you know that no matter where you are on this earth, no matter where you may roam, there’s going to be a little priest down in New Orleans, continually praying for you.”
The celebration concluded with the presentation of the two Student Senate scholarships. This year’s recipients were Larissa DellaVentura from Saint Francis Catholic Secondary School, and Megan Falco from Saint Paul Catholic High School.