Words of appreciation flavor bittersweetness at graduation events

At Baccalaureate Masses and commencement ceremonies for the three Catholic diocesan high schools, themes of preparedness and faith met the sentiments of excitement and bittersweetness.
The conclusion of the academic year recently yielded to formal gatherings of teachers, administrators, seniors and their families from Andrean High School of Merrillville, Bishop Noll Institute of Hammond and Marquette Catholic High School of Michigan City.
On May 29 at Our Lady of Consolation in Merrillville, Bishop Robert J. McClory presided over Mass and lauded “the great gifts of Catholic education and formation” that are characterized by supportive families and a nurturing academic setting provided by Andrean staff members.
Bishop McClory delivered a homily relating the day’s reading from the Gospel of Mark to purposeful leadership among the soon-to-be graduates. He said it was important to “not just know stuff, but to be someone.”
Addressing the 100 teens preparing to graduate, he said not everyone is ready to be a “level-five leader” from central casting for servant leadership, but adopting a prayerful perspective and realizing, ‘Lord, you have a plan for my life, beyond what I can see,’” the bishop said the 59ers could go forward in faith.
From Scripture, Bishop McClory spoke of the stir caused when some apostles suggested they would be ranked at the top near Jesus. The Lord responded to his followers promoting “a better way to live,” not to “Lord over” others but, instead, to have a servant’s heart.
“To be a servant doesn’t mean you are weak and don’t have talents; to be meek, from the origin of the very word, means 'strength under control,’” the bishop explained.
Andrean seniors walked across the stage at the school’s football stadium on May 31 and were cheered on by school staff including principal Jaycob Knazur. Valedictorian John Clements offered advice for his 59ers peers based on best practices in faith and academics.
“It’s important to stay rooted in prayer ... our most important tool as Catholics is prayer to make a positive difference in the world,” said Clements, of Valparaiso.
The future Ave Maria University of Florida student added, “My tips: Don’t procrastinate, which I sometimes learned the hard way. Stay on top of your work; it’s doable.”
Graduate Cynthia Medina of Merrillville said she would not soon forget her Andrean classmates. “I feel very happy and a little emotional. Eventually, I’m going to leave behind this little family that I’ve created over the last four years.”
At the Cathedral of the Holy Angels in Gary on June 6, Bishop McClory spoke of the 1986 best-selling book of essays, “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten,” to suggest that the graduating BNI seniors revisit core values that have been nurtured in the years since they were children.
“Foundational truths embedded while you were younger and cultivated over the years in your Bishop Noll Institute Catholic high school education will serve you and all of us well throughout our whole lives,” said the bishop. “Just as a kindergartener can pick up the cross and (understand the concept of) love of God and love of neighbor, throughout our whole lives, those pillars will sustain us as we go forward.”
Principal Lorenza Jara Pastrick reflected in her “Mass Minute” address after the liturgy about the camaraderie that the Class of 2024 showed, especially after enduring the mitigation protocols during the pandemic.
Later that day at the Hammond school, after commencement ceremonies in the gymnasium, students reflected on the most memorable parts of their high school days and what they saw on the horizon.
Among BNI’s 120 graduates, Angel Alvarez said he learned plenty and matured a lot at the Hammond school. The Indiana University-bound Warrior said it was an emotional day.
“Coming into Mass today I was with (friends), and teachers and it was a bittersweet feeling,” Alvarez explained. “I’m excited and there are a lot of emotions rushing down my body, as well as spiritually. Bishop Noll taught me a lot, so graduating from here means a lot.”
Anthony Jimenez from Chicago’s East Side praised his BNI education and is already homing in on his potential sports media major when he attends Ball State University this fall. 
“Bishop Noll is just a really good school – education-wise and obviously with all the memories I’ve made with my friends.”
Standing next to Jiminez was his classmate Suley Acuahuitl, who wore a “First Generation,” stole to celebrate being the first of her family to graduate from high school and go to college.
Acuahuitl, who graduated from St. Casimir School in Hammond, will also be moving to Muncie to attend Ball State with Jimenez.
“To me, it means making my parents proud and all the sacrifices they’ve done for me,” Acuahuitl said.  
For Marquette seniors, June 5 was a most memorable day. At the Michigan City campus, the day’s itinerary included breakfast, Baccalaureate Mass and commencement exercises.
Bishop Robert J. McClory addressed the soon-to-be graduates at St. Mary the Immaculate Conception church prior to commencement.
“Part of your education and formation experience at Marquette is to give you the opportunity to take the talents, strengths, the qualities, and characteristics you have and use them for a purpose…serve others with a loving heart," said the bishop.
The Marquette Class of 2024 might have been small in size, but they made up for it in resilience and fierceness.
“They are 32 unique personalities, but they all meshed together as one,” said principal Katie Collignon. “I’m so proud of them.”
Collignon, who finished her first year as Marquette’s principal, noted the group came in as freshman in 2020 when all the pandemic protocols were in place.
Salutatorian Saniya Singh was thankful for those who were there for her during her time at Marquette, including her classmates and teachers, who “pushed me to achieve more than I ever thought possible.” 
Rogelio Valdes recalled feeling scared when he first arrived at Marquette because he felt he wouldn’t make any friends. “I was soon proved wrong,” he said.
“We always had a small class, but it allowed us to be closer together,” Valdes said. “I’m so proud to be part of this class.”
Jai Heard was excited about graduating and starting a new chapter in her life, but will treasure her time at Marquette, especially her Catholic education. 
“Faith is very important to my family, and it helped going to a Catholic high school. It is good to have religion in your school life,” said Heard. “I will always know where my roots come from: Marquette and Queen of All Saints.”


Caption: Bishop Noll Institute new graduates cheer for their classmates as they cross the stage in the gymnasium for the 101st commencement exercises in Hammond on June 6. The class of 2024 earned a record amount of college scholarship offers, according BNI administrators. (Anthony D. Alonzo photo)