R.I. Catholic graduates are uniquely celebrated during unprecedented end of high school careers

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PROVIDENCE — The world’s response to the outbreak of the COVID-19 virus left no aspect of life untouched. Everyone had to make sacrifices to prevent the spread of the virus and high school graduations were no exception. When the coronavirus struck the world, few people anticipated just how much it would upend daily life in the months to come. For the thousands of students comprising the class of 2020, it also changed how they would graduate.
For Catholic high schools throughout Rhode Island, graduation celebrations looked a bit different this year, but the acts of service, academic and athletic accomplishments of these students remained outstanding.
An extended Catholic high school graduation season began this year with a live-streamed celebration from Portsmouth Abbey on Sunday, May 24. The day kicked off with a live-streamed Mass for the graduates, followed by a prerecorded video message from Headmaster Dan McDonough and individual callouts from each students’ advisor. The Abbey included recorded greetings from several alumni and concluded with the traditional Sixth-Form slide show.
Explaining why the ceremony was postponed to June 2021, rather than virtual, Headmaster Dan McDonough said, “In our conversations with the members of the Class of 2020, it was clear that they were eager to reschedule their Commencement Weekend for a time when they could come back to campus for a live ceremony.”
When classes adjourned for spring break on March 5, pre-lockdown for the country, the Abbey had not yet reached the decision to transition to distance learning.
“Our students had anticipated returning to campus, so they missed the opportunity to say goodbye to their teachers, coaches, classmates, and friends with whom they had lived, worked and thrived for almost four years,” said McDonough.
Portsmouth Abbey is looking ahead to next year where the Class of 2020 will reunite June 10-13, 2021, to celebrate, bid farewell to their classmates and thank their teachers.
On Wednesday, May 27,
La Salle Academy held a joy-filled drive-thru celebration for more than 300 seniors. Students were met warmly with cheers from faculty and staff — many expressing the same sentiment, “We’re proud of you!”
Grads waved as families drove them through the high school campus as they received yearbooks, some essential items to kick off Senior Week, as well as some surprises along the way. Cars were decorated in school colors, maroon and white, to celebrate this special event.
A live-streamed graduation event took place on June 17 where seniors were able to receive their diplomas in a socially-distanced process. Overall, 100% of students were engaged in community service in their time on campus and 98% of La Salle grads will be attending schools of higher education this fall.
For the commencement of the young women at St. Mary Academy Bay View on June 6, signs with photos of smiling graduates filled the lawn, moving in the breeze, outside of the Riverside school.
Those watching via Facebook live shared their congratulations to the students and gratitude to those who planned such a special event in unprecedented times.
Catherine McDonough said, “Well done! Didn’t miss a thing. Was able to watch our granddaughter Kayla Leandre receive her diploma on our computer from Florida.”
Ron and Jeanne Nadeau posted, “It was amazing and simply done, but the graduates had their moment to be recognized! The weather was perfect to celebrate! Thank you, Bay View for having found a way to accomplish this...even with a stage. Congratulations to the Class of 2020.”
St. Mary Academy Bay View President Sister Marybeth Beretta said that she has continued to be inspired by the school community as through their mission of Mercy they meet life’s most difficult moments with courage and selfless concern for others.
“I’m so proud of the countless ways that our graduating class has responded to the COVID-19 crisis by rising to every challenge and accepting every disappointment with resilience and grace.”
Bishop Hendricken High School truly lit up the night for graduates during their “Hawks’ Last Flight” Drive-in Graduation celebration on Friday, June 26, at Aldrich Mansion. Shortly after sunset, families and those watching from home could hear horns honking and applause for the young men graduating from the Warwick school. Although it was a non-traditional event with creative safety measures, the pomp and circumstance was more than present.
In his address, valedictorian Logan Cuthill shared that, “often times, when God closes a door he opens a window. Through this particular window, he allows us to view significance of our gathering here in a more refined light.”
For the past five years Hendricken was Cuthill’s entire life, he said. He took time to thank teachers for their dedication and love, coaches for challenging his academic endeavors, and expressed his gratitude to family for their continued support. He also reminded classmates that the legacy they built as Hendricken Hawks is the very tool they need to forge the rest of their lives.
“Use your skills, foster your connections and cherish your memories and ensure that the time we spent here together is not taken for granted. It is my steadfast hope that it never leaves you. Protect that legacy and ‘live Jesus in our hearts forever.’”
St. Patrick Academy held their graduation, academic convocation and senior Mass spread out within the church on July 18. Only the 18 graduates, parents and certain faculty and staff were invited to the event. These ceremonies were live-streamed.
Father James Ruggieri, pastor of St. Patrick Church, offered his inspiring words of encouragement for the seniors.
“Since you’ve entered this academy… all those who contributed to the mission of our school were here to help you build a firm foundation. Now you move on and the formation continues. Not just academically, but one of our huge areas of formation is the spiritual and personal. We have tried to make you become the people God has made you to be. Don’t forget who you are, that you were made in God’s image, and to what you are called — you are called to greatness. You are called to be great saints. You have that potential and you’re realizing it.”
The Mount Saint Charles Academy community worked hard to keep tradition and its mission at the forefront as they found ways to celebrate the accomplishments of the Class of 2020. The school modified and rescheduled commencement events in response to coronavirus restrictions, holding graduation ceremonies on August 2 instead their usual June timeframe.
The run-up to graduation started in May with a parade of Mount buses and the Mountie mascot delivering lawn signs to the Class of 2020 valedictorian, salutatorian, graduation mistress of ceremonies and top-10 graduates. All graduates also picked up personal lawn signs, caps, gowns, tassels and honor cords during a campus drive-through.
“Ensuring that the Class of 2020 celebrates in Mount’s nearly century old traditions is the goal and our leadership team and staff will do all that we can to celebrate in a way that honors that legacy and ensures the safety of all those involved,” said Mount Saint Charles President Alan Tenreiro.
Parents and their graduates gathered at the Cathedral of SS. Peter and Paul on August 2 for a Prayer Service in celebration of St. Raphael Academy’s 93rd commencement before heading in their cars for a drive-thru diploma ceremony back on the Pawtucket campus.
Twins Adam and Rachel Gomes found the occasion bittersweet as they prepared to enter the cathedral with their parents.
“It’s nice that they’re doing something for us, but I wish we could have been together,” said Adam Gomes, who plans to major in engineering this fall at the University of Rhode Island.
His sister, who will also attend the University of Rhode, where she will major in nursing, said she was happy to at least see her classmates again, albeit from a distance.
“I’m glad we’re doing something instead of nothing and I’m glad I get to see everybody again,” Rachel Gomes said.
In his address to the graduates, Principal Dan Richard spoke of how the pandemic has taught everyone tremendous lessons about perseverance and resilience.
“The last few months have tested all of us, but together our faith has been our cornerstone and it has anchored us during these tumultuous times. Never underestimate the power of your faith, or the spiritual lessons you have learned during the past four years at our Academy,” Richard said.
Valedictorian Stephanie Murphy, who plans to major in international business at the College of Charleston, said in her address that although the coronavirus pandemic altered life significantly for the school community, it didn’t erase all that they had achieved together over the past four years.
“Although COVID-19 cut our walk down Walcott Street short, these circumstances do not take away our accomplishments,” Murphy said.
“If we have learned anything from the past few months, it would be that life is unpredictable. We sometimes do not have control over where life takes us, but we have control over how we allow it to affect us. We control our attitudes and outlooks on a situation.”
The Prout School rescheduled their graduation to August 3 on campus, while adhering to Covid-19 rules and restrictions, as the community celebrated its 93 graduates. Parents stayed in their cars and listened to the ceremony broadcast over the radio, while students sat masked, six feet apart on the front lawn of the school for a ceremony that retained as much of the “traditional” as it could.
Salutatorian Michael Slusarczyk unfortunately had to miss graduation to start his school year at Notre Dame, but still shared words of thanks and encouragement to his fellow classmates in a special video.
“To sum up my experience I’ve been able to accomplish what I’ve accomplished because of constantly putting 110 percent into my work, my faith, my morals and my relationships. You can do anything if you put your mind and heart to it. All of our individual Prout experiences have set us up for greatness, let’s take that and run with it…You all have God-given gifts and talents that you can offer to society, use them.”
As a graduating Prout senior, Hadley Bansal was disappointed at the unexpected end of her highschool career, but tried to find the positives in a difficult situation.
“No one expected this and it really is awful that our year has to end like this. But saying that, I have been trying to look more on the bright side of it. The Class of 2020 is one that will never be forgotten. Every single freshman going into college with you will have had the same experience that you did to end out the year, so we are not alone in feeling like this. The Prout community has responded so well to these unprecedented times. All of the teachers are making sure we have the support we need and are being super kind and encouraging to us. They are all just as upset as we are, and feel really bad that this is happening.”

With reports from Executive Editor Rick Snizek.