to Make a Difference:
51st high school commencement celebrated Saturday
By Mike Lauterborn
(for Fairfield Citizen News)
Fairfield, CT – The gym was warm but the feeling in the hearts of all was even warmer with regard to the special moment for which they were gathered.
On Saturday afternoon, Notre Dame Catholic High School celebrated its 51st Commencement, awarding diplomas to 116 Class of 2011 seniors, among which 30 are National Honor Society Members. Sixty-six of the graduating students were also recognized for obtaining scholarship funds from various institutions, which, in total, topped over $9.2 million. The exercise was held in the Sister Marion Rielly Memorial Auditorium, which was completely filled to capacity and dotted with bouquet-carrying family members and “Congrats Grad” Mylar balloons.
As friends and relatives filtered into the gym, the walls of which were plastered with the school’s many sports championship banners, they carried feelings of hope and excitement for their loved ones.
“I drove down to see my nephew Giovanni (Colon) graduate,” said one family member, Adriana Colon from Boston. “He’ll be attending St. John’s in Queens in the fall. I’m really proud of him. There’s going to be a lot of waterworks, as I’ll be crying.”
Stratford resident Matt Wajda, whose brother Nick was graduating, said, “I’m really excited to see him make it. I graduated from here, too. The tradition continues.”
Another sibling, Bridgeporter Rebecca Young, said, “I’m here for my sister Rachel (Young). She’ll go to Lincoln Tech Culinary School in Shelton. I’m excited for her. I’m an alumnus here, and can’t wait to see how she does as she moves on – she’s an honors student.”
Arguably, none could be prouder than Bridgeport parent Veronica Hernandez, perched in a bleacher seat. “My daughter Bianca (Carrasquillo) is graduating,” she said. “She’ll be going to Sacred Heart to study psychology. She’s had the high school experience most kids want to have. When I was putting her cap on, we both started tearing up – you could still see her baby eyes. It’s been a long journey but, at the same time, time flew by. She won’t be far from me as I work at Sacred Heart. Her father and I have been blessed with her being such a good girl.”
To great applause, the seniors, dressed in purple robes, with honors students designated by yellow satin sashes, and faculty, decked in black robes, filed in. After they were greeted by Assistant Principal Carl Philipp and all stood for the national anthem, Reverend Peter Cipriani offered a brief invocation. Amusingly, Cipriani cited “the Gospel according to Pearl Jam” saying, “If you’re anxious, just breathe. May Almighty God bless you awesome graduates.”
Presenting diplomas was the Most Reverend William E. Lori, Bishop of Bridgeport. Each senior posed for a photograph with him and school president Reverend Bill Sangiovanni as they emerged from backstage, then they took center stage to present themselves as Philipp called their name. They were met with cheers and chants from fellow students, which they answered with fist pumps, nods, thumbs up and arms raised high. A long applause followed the presentation then remarks from Principal Christopher Cipriano.
“To our class of 2011, please accept my congratulations,” he said. “We are truly proud of you. We also thank the parents who have made financial sacrifices and shuttled their students every day from other areas. ‘Make a difference’ is the challenge I put to you. If you make that your mission, just think of the impact you can make. Be imitators of Christ. Make yourself and your families proud. We will certainly miss you.”
Cipriano introduced Valedictorian Jessica Harper, citing her many accomplishments, among them being ranked #1 in the senior class. She will attend Hamilton College in the fall. “Hi guys!” she began, then continued, “I deliberated about what to say and didn’t want to be boring. I turned to Google, which indicated that many Valedictorian speeches are trite. Then I had a flashback to freshman year and Father Bill who said we are a family. I didn’t think so at the time, but it was clearly true.”
She continued, “As a family, we’ve cheered on our sports teams and had many laughs. I’ve been blessed with teachers that truly care about me. The true test of a family is how we stand together in tragedy, like during the passing of Dr. DeSimone late last year. As we go our separate ways, it’s important to remember that this school has bonded together and we are connected by that bond. You can be sure that wherever you are, a Notre Dame grad will have your back.”
As a new tradition, one senior, Caitlin Shea-Vantine, was recognized by faculty as Outstanding Senior. They described her as caring, thoughtful and compassionate. This award preceded Father Sangiovanni reading the names of each student who achieved a scholarship and the scholarship amounts, which overall totaled an impressive $9,287,746.
Dr. Margaret Dames, superintendent of schools, then offered, “When I think of the last four years, I think of all the events that have occurred – economic downturn, social unrest. Two things have prepared you to meet these challenges: spiritual stamina and academic excellence. Your successful journey begins today.”
She was followed by Fairfield Town Clerk Betsy Browne, a past Notre Dame graduate. “I can say the school is a great support system. I can always call it home,” she commented.
Giving closing remarks, Bishop Lori said, “It’s a great joy for me to be here to send you off to your futures. I wish you every success on, this, your graduation day. Congratulations to the Class of 2011.”
Filing outside as the ceremony concluded, graduate Ashley Almeida, who will attend Sacred Heart, said, “I’m excited but also sad to be leaving family and friends. I will study criminal law and feel very well prepared. All my senior teachers were fantastic.”
Like Almeida, graduate Monique Plummer also had kind words for her teachers. “My experience here was amazing and I don’t want to leave,” she said. “I will truly miss it. Thanks to all the faculty, in particular Father Cipriani, for being there for me through the hardest times and letting me know all will be OK.”