KCHS, NDHS Class of 2020 finally graduates

KCHS, NDHS Class of 2020 finally graduates

Stories by Dan McWilliams

The COVID-19 pandemic may have sent home seniors for the last two months of their high school careers and delayed graduation, but the commencement ceremonies for Knoxville Catholic High School and Notre Dame High School nevertheless took place in the second half of June.

Each school’s football stadium hosted the outdoor commencements as 149 KCHS students received diplomas June 19 and 80 NDHS students were awarded theirs June 27.

Knoxville Catholic High School

Knoxville Catholic High School senior Chloe Arnwine receives her diploma from Bishop Richard F. Stika at the Fighting Irish’s commencement.

Bishop Richard F. Stika, superintendent of Catholic schools Dr. Sedonna Prater, school president Dickie Sompayrac, vicar general and Cathedral of the Most Sacred Heart of Jesus rector Father David Boettner, and school chaplain Father Michael Hendershott were among the dignitaries attending the Knoxville Catholic graduation.

Dr. Prater talked about the unusual spring that saw classes for all Diocese of Knoxville students end in March and lead to at-home learning for the remainder of the school year.

“None of us could have ever imagined that our graduating scholars would have ended their Catholic high school in quarantine from a pandemic,” she said. “Our mission proclaims that our schools prepare scholars, leaders, and saints—this year has provided insight into the leaders these students are as they have demonstrated strength, resilience, creativity, and a tenacious spirit.

“I am confident that their future will not be dimmed by these experiences; rather, our graduates are even more prepared to respond to our world’s needs with grace and resolve. Being able to celebrate our graduates at their commencement ceremonies provided us all the opportunity to joyfully embrace their accomplishments, have closure on an important milestone, and reinforce our own hope in each of the students as they enter this next phase of their life’s journey.”

Mr. Sompayrac took the microphone first at the KCHS ceremony.

“To dignitaries and others attending: On behalf of the class of 2020, it gives me great pleasure to welcome each of you to tonight’s ceremony, the 88th commencement in Knoxville Catholic’s rich history,” he said. “Allow me to begin by expressing my personal appreciation to Bishop Stika, Father David, and Dr. Prater. Your attendance today is indicative of your strong support for Catholic education and the students who make up the class of 2020.

A student bumps elbows with Bishop Richard F. Stika after receiving her diploma. Also pictured are Father David Boettner, schools superintendent Dr. Sedonna Prater (second from left), and KCHS academic dean Jane Walker.

“It is appropriate that my remarks tonight be directed primarily to our graduates, but we cannot fail to mention the vital role that parents, grandparents, guardians, and special mentors have played in the success of these young people. It is indeed a most humbling thought to realize you have entrusted this fine group to the care of our outstanding faculty, and we are most appreciative of the confidence you have shown by entrusting your most precious resources to our care.”

Mr. Sompayrac said that “as an administration and faculty, it has been our pleasure to watch this class evolve into the outstanding group they have become. As we gather today to send them off with our best wishes, it is our hope and prayer that we have served them well.

“The class of 2020 will go down as a class that has been marked by historical significance. Eighteen years ago, you entered this world as beautiful little miracles at a time when our country was dealing with the devastation of the terrorist attacks on the World Trade Center in New York. And now as you prepare to enter adulthood and your lives after high school, you are dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic, and again our country is reeling, not from a terrorist attack but from the coronavirus. You are also going into a world and a nation that is bitterly divided with a climate of racial distrust and injustice. You will be connected by history, and how fitting is it that you will be the ones to determine the next few chapters.”

Graduation day marked an important occasion in history, Mr. Sompayrac said.

A KCHS student enters Blaine Stadium for the graduation ceremony.

“I could not help but think how appropriate it is that today, June 19, we celebrate the 155th anniversary of the effective end of slavery in our country. Yes, black lives matter,” he said. “And if you leave Knoxville Catholic having learned only one thing, it would be that we are all made in the image and likeness of God. God does not favor one man over another, and our Catechism of the Catholic Church spells this out:

“‘The equality of men rests essentially on their dignity as persons and the rights that flow from it. Every form of social or cultural discrimination in fundamental personal rights on the grounds of sex, race, color, social conditions, language, or religion must be curbed and eradicated as incompatible with God’s design’ [n. 1935]. That is our challenge and our calling, and that is the challenge of the class of 2020.”

The KCHS president added that “four years ago, you entered our doors with much excitement and anticipation and a healthy amount of fear of those upperclassmen. You should be very proud of the fact that you were highly successful in moving from a diverse group of freshmen into a community of seniors. Because you were able to achieve this often-elusive goal of developing a true sense of community, your class will be remembered as one that truly enhanced the mission of Knoxville Catholic High School.

“Your academic and co-curricular achievements are many, and your countless hours of service to our community are remarkable. But I think this class will be remembered more for how you cared for each other. Four years ago when we met for the first time as the class of 2020, I challenged this group to do three things: get involved, do your very best, and be kind to each other. As we celebrate your many achievements today, let me say simply: mission accomplished.”

The KCHS senior class earned many scholarships, Mr. Sompayrac said.

“Academically, your talents and accolades are numerous, and you lived our mission through your success in the classroom. You should be proud of the fact that this class of 149 students has been offered $14.1 million in scholarships, and you have been accepted to colleges and universities in over 30 states, from New York to Arizona to West Virginia to Texas to California to Pennsylvania, including such institutions as Vanderbilt, Rice, Wake Forest, Marshall, the United States Naval Academy, West Point, and the University of Tennessee, just to name a few.

“To date, 139 members of this class have been offered scholarships to college, representing 93 percent of this class.”

The seniors also left their mark in the sports world.

“Athletically, your four years at Catholic High have been very successful as you have been a part of seven state championships, in volleyball, tennis, boys and girls cross country, dance, football, and boys basketball. And let us not forget your undefeated record in dodge ball and your consecutive Spirit Week titles,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “In fact, let’s be honest, this class loves Spirit Week.”

The last football season included a national ESPN broadcast of the Fighting Irish’s game against Brentwood Academy.

“I will always remember being asked prior to the ESPN game this past fall, ‘Aren’t you worried your students might do something that brings negative attention to our school on national TV?’ My response, without hesitation, was ‘No. These seniors won’t let that happen,’” Mr. Sompayrac said. “And then to hear the ESPN announcers say that we had the most respectful student body they had encountered, on national TV, was awesome and a reflection of this class and your leadership.”

The class of 2020 “has also shown their talents through the arts, with superior ratings for our band and chorus, along with outstanding performances in Shrek: The Musical and Sense and Sensibility, not to mention the continued growth of Coffee Fest and visual-art displays from our students. And we are all looking forward to hopefully seeing the play, Little Women, before the summer is over,” Mr. Sompayrac said.

“You know, as a faculty and an administration, it is always our hope and prayer that we have served our students well, but I must say that this class has challenged us to be better, whether it was the wildfires in Gatlinburg during your freshman year, the hurricanes in Puerto Rico from your sophomore year, or your back-to-back Spirit Week championships from the last two years, or even how you dealt with the at-home learning at the end of your last two months of high school. You handled yourselves with grace and humility. Your resilience has revealed your brilliance, and I am so proud of this class.

“As Father Hendershott said last night [at Baccalaureate], ‘turn to God in good times and in bad, and remember these words from Jesus in Matthew, chapter 11: “Come to me all who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest, for my yoke is easy and my burden is light.”’”

Mr. Sompayrac asked the faculty to stand up, and the assembly greeted the teachers with applause.

“The class of 2020 has grown so much over these last four years, so we cannot fail to mention your many successes without recognizing a group that has been instrumental in your education experience,” Mr. Sompayrac said of the faculty.

Knoxville Catholic’s first graduation featured considerably fewer seniors.

“Eighty-eight years ago, Knoxville Catholic opened its doors in the old Ashe home in East Knoxville, and our first graduating class had only 11 students. Certainly this was a humbling beginning,” Mr. Sompayrac said. “As you now look across our campus, you will see Schaad Hall, Faris Field House, Hollin Field, Schriver Fine Arts Wing, Monsignor Garrity Administrative Suite, and so much more. Our faculty has grown from just six teachers in 1932 to nearly 60 now.

“You have taken full advantage of our great faculty and facilities, and for that we are grateful. But it is important to remember that many of these folks have given back, even after their time or their children’s time here, because they want to ensure the future of Catholic High for years to come. As you go out into the world to become teachers, doctors, lawyers, social workers, engineers, general managers, priests, and sisters, I ask you to remember KCHS, because our work here is not done.”

Mr. Sompayrac ended his talk by quoting the Holy Father.

“I want to conclude my remarks to our graduates with these words from Pope Francis, spoken on World Youth Day several years ago: ‘If we want to have real meaning and fulfillment as you want and as you deserve, I say to each one of you: put on faith, and your life will take on a new flavor. It will have a compass to show you the way. Put on hope, and every one of your days will be enlightened and your horizon will no longer be dark but luminous. Put on love, and your life will be like a house built on a rock. Your journey will be joyful, because you will find many friends to journey with you.’”

The KCHS graduation ceremony included the recognition of numerous seniors.

Earning the school’s highest honor for students, the Sedes Sapientiae (“seat of wisdom”) Medal of Merit Award, were Mary Elizabeth Cox and Michael Stapleton.

Katie Holt and Eleanor Mancini received the Ashe-Bonnyman Scholarship. The Monsignor Francis D. Grady Citizenship Award went to Callie Grace Tucker. Charlie Kirk and Alyssa Lucci earned the Irish Achievement Award. The Helen J. and Joe Kennedy Memorial Scholarship Award was given to Tony Spezia. The Irish Parent Network Scholarship Award recipients were Davis Clem and Lincoln Murr.

Lincoln also earned recognition as a National Merit Finalist, an honor that went to about 300 Tennessee students, or less than 1 percent of seniors. Joining him as a National Merit Commended Scholar were Michael Stapleton, Melanie Cionfolo, Carly Slough, and Neeley Wilson.

The outstanding teacher of the year award went to Jessica Magers-Rankin.

Mary Elizabeth Cox and Michael Stapleton received the “Sedes Sapientiae” Medal of Merit Award, and each spoke at the KCHS graduation. School president Dickie Sompayrac watches at left.

The Sedes Sapientiae recipients also spoke at the graduation.

“I can’t speak for everyone, but I myself did not expect that the Thursday before spring break would be our last school day together,” Michael Stapleton said. “I know that I, and I’m sure that I’m not alone, have been quite aware over the past weeks of all the ‘lasts’ that we never got to celebrate, but even more so, I’ve been thinking of all the goodbyes that were never said. So I thought that tonight I might say a little about goodbye.

While reflecting on the year, I realized that we never get to leave Knoxville Catholic. Mr. Sompayrac made sure of this in our very first meeting as freshmen. He told us there are really only two tests at Knoxville Catholic: the test of academics and the test of virtue. And if we had to choose just one, we were to become the most virtuous men and women that we could. And back then I nodded to myself and I said, ‘Well, that’s awesome,’ and then four years later I realized I had just gotten roped into taking a test for my entire life. Those two tests, and the way Knoxville Catholic approaches them, show implicitly what we have all just spent four years learning: union with God Himself is the purpose of life. Fail the latter test, and we lose everything.”

Mary Elizabeth Cox called her speech “my love letter to the KCHS class of 2020.”

“There’s a sense of camaraderie that we established very early on,” she said. “Of course, we are grateful for so much talent. We have Merit Scholars, Division I athletes, and Olympic hopefuls.

“We have some of the most talented artists you’ll ever see. . . . We have some amazing writers like Evan Ray and Katie Holt, musicians like Alex Dally and Carly Slough, performers like Abbie Orillion and Ella Trisler, who killed every performance alongside their spectacular theater company members. And we have amazing intellects like Lincoln Murr and Josh Borja, who I think we should all say a quick thank-you to for helping us out for the past few years.

“I think one of the hardest parts of missing out on these last few months was losing our time to say goodbyes. Goodbyes have always been a hard thing for me, because I’m more of a see-you-later kind of person. I believe that the weight in a goodbye is much too heavy a burden to put on a single word alone. It alludes to the close of a chapter rather than focusing on continuation.”

Bishop Stika delivered the closing remarks and prayer at the KCHS graduation. He opened by saying that some students present may earn plaudits later in life, well after graduation day.

“Throughout the school year, if you’re involved in theater or in sports or in other activities where people come to see you, a lot of times you get congratulated and applauded and saluted,” he said. “But there are other folks, too, who maybe are a little bit more introverted than extraverted, or people who don’t participate in all kinds of activities, people who are maybe not as gifted—yet—in academics. Notice I said ‘yet.’ Or in sports.

“I wonder how many people if we surveyed the whole history of the world all of a sudden later in life blossomed and made a difference, that they discovered their potential, because we all discover our potential at different moments of our lives.”

Time cannot rob certain things, the bishop said.

A student returns to her seat after receiving her diploma. The scoreboard reflects the spirit of the day.

“I just want to say to all of you: be kind, because that doesn’t disappear or fade with time,” he said. “Be charitable. Be forgiving. Be understanding. Make a difference in your own individual way. You might become famous, but even that’s a term, because if you have a family, your children will always consider you special and famous.

“Since I’ve been here—this is my 12th graduation—I’ve reminded people over and over and over again to be the face of Jesus. Whether you are a Catholic or a Christian who has attended this school, one of the things that we strive for is to actually believe that we are the face of Jesus. So often generations will say, ‘I hope I left the world a better place’ as a collective thing. Parents always want to see that, that their children enjoy a bit more than they themselves did.”

Bishop Stika noted “all the different activities that you’ve had, all of the fund drives and the food baskets, making this school proud throughout the world when you were on ESPN and received that compliment.

“Be kind and understanding and compassionate and loving, and don’t be afraid to discover more and more about yourself, because I am sure that in this group of graduates, you’ll make a difference. I know that. If you trust God, if you trust yourself, and if you are willing to open up to the invitation of God to make a difference, you’re going to excel. You’re going to blossom. You’re going to discover more and more about yourself.

“This school has built upon the foundation of the schools that you have attended in the past. Whether you’ve been together since preschool, and it’s been a pleasure to know so many of you over the years as I’ve visited our grade schools and just gotten to know you. But life will change.”

At the Baccalaureate on June 18, Bishop Stika talked about the theme song for his high school class of 1975: Seals and Crofts’ “We May Never Pass This Way Again.”

“Nope, you’re not going to pass this way again, because it’s time for you to leave,” he said. “Come back and visit, but make sure when you leave, you remember with gratitude the teachers, the faculty, and the staff, no matter what they’ve done. Remember them with gratitude because they have given a portion of their life for you, because people at this high school who teach, who are on the faculty, administration, and all the other activities, they’re here for you, not for themselves. Remember them with gratitude to this school.

“If anybody here becomes a billionaire, or even if you’ve got a few extra million, please remember Knoxville Catholic so we can continue the tradition that helped to shape you these last four years. Please know that I’m so proud of you.”

Bishop Stika said “Father David and I and Father Michael, we don’t have our own families and our own spouses, but I do know this: being a priest for 35 years and a bishop into my 12th, you can look with pride on people who you’ve gotten to know.

“It’s like we throw a pebble into a beautiful pond, a lake, and we see the ripples. I want to thank all of you, my sisters and brothers, graduating tonight. And to all the families, the parents, and all those who are watching at home, I say thank you, to this entire diocese, people who have made contributions having no connection at all to this high school. To the faculty and to the teachers and to the religious and to God himself, I say thank you. So congratulations.

“Come back and visit often. Don’t forget to be ambassadors for this school with your sisters and brothers and parents and with people you’ve bumped into along the way. And Our Lady, I pray, the patroness of the school, along with St. Patrick, always be with you and guide you. Don’t forget about God and Jesus and the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. Because at the end of your life, you won’t be known for the diplomas and the awards maybe in theater or sports or whatever it might be, but, God willing, you’ll be remembered as a person of goodness who made a difference in the lives of other people. Congratulations.”


Notre Dame High School

Notre Dame conducted its “much awaited and long overdue 139th commencement exercises,” school president George Valadie said.

Sarah Eiselstein and Domenic Mariani each received the Christian Living Award at the NDHS graduation ceremony. They are standing with Dr. Sedonna Prater (left), superintendent of Catholic schools; Laura Swenson, NDHS dean of academic affairs; and John Mullin, NDHS dean of students.

Bishop Richard F. Stika was unable to attend the Notre Dame graduation because he was self-quarantining after days before potentially being exposed to someone who tested positive for the coronavirus. Bishop Stika ultimately tested negative for the virus.

Mr. Valadie, a member of the Notre Dame class of 1971, presided at the commencement, joined by schools superintendent Dr. Sedonna Prater, school chaplain Father Christopher Manning, dean of students John Mullin, and dean of academic affairs Laura Swenson.

“Our faculty and senior class wish to welcome everyone to this year’s commencement. It’s been a long time coming,” Mr. Valadie said. “There are so many people to thank, and we’ll do some of that later. But I want to welcome our parents, grandparents, and siblings. I wish we could have extended an open invitation to the world—this class of students deserves nothing more than to be celebrated.

“But in another sense—and assuming our technology comes through—this will be the first Notre Dame graduation that will be broadcast across the globe.”

The graduation ceremony was livestreamed through the NDHS website.

Two students spoke after Mr. Valadie’s opening remarks. The salutatory address of welcome was given by Nora Bauer, who at 4.51 posted the second-highest grade point average among Notre Dame seniors. The valedictory address of farewell was presented by Lauren Stevens, whose 4.52 GPA was the highest in the class of 2020.

“We need to find meaning in what transcends time and space,” Nora said. “Even today, we are not elebrating the mass of homework assignments turned in or the years spent in school. We are celebrating the relationships we have with each other and what we worked toward that was bigger than ourselves. We find joy and meaning in relationships, passions, and even traditions that exist outside of space and time.”

Lauren said she was “originally . . . anticipating the excitement of graduating and all the new and interesting experiences and opportunities that lie ahead. However, my feelings quickly changed to just being excited about us being together again. It’s amazing how being in someone’s presence is completely different than seeing them on a screen.

Schools superintendent Dr. Sedonna Prater stands with NDHS seniors before they enter the stadium.

“Recently, I felt overwhelmed seeing some of you, because just by watching a friend laugh, smile, and talk about how they’ve been has made me realize how much I’ve missed them, despite the number of times that we’ve texted or called over the past few months. Needless to say, I’m so happy that we can come together as a class to celebrate today.

“I also dreaded this moment. There have been times when, writing this speech, that I’ve been at a complete loss for words, because what do you say to a heartbroken class who just lost the end of their senior year? I was asked to write a farewell, yet I’m not completely certain if I’m ready to say goodbye. I’m not sure if most of us are. One thing I don’t want to do is stand here and talk about what has been lost, because we are way more than that.”

Mr. Valadie then presented several scholarships and awards.

“Sadly, this year will long be remembered as much by what our students missed as by what they accomplished—and one of those lost events was our annual Junior-Senior Prom,” he said. “Had we been able to have it, one of our traditions would have been the annual announcement of Mr. and Miss Notre Dame. Nominated by their fellow seniors and voted on by the student body, they would have been crowned during the evening’s festivities.

“Though that wasn’t able to happen, we did announce both honorees in our Virtual Senior Awards Night video, but I’d like to recognize them again. Miss Notre Dame is Saylor Brown, and Mr. Notre Dame is Jason Oliver.”

Mr. Valadie said the class of 2020 “has an impressive number of scholarship winners.”

Valedictorian Lauren Stevens delivers her speech at the Notre Dame High School graduation.

“On the day we went to press [with the graduation program], this class of 80 students had accumulated just shy of 200 scholarship offers in excess of $6.5 million,” he said.

The school president then announced a number of awards.

The Christian Living Awards went to Sarah Eiselstein and Domenic Mariani. Mr. Mullin presented the Bubber Byrne Award, named after a football player from the class of 1936 who died of a blood disease in the fall of his senior year, to Jeffery Watkins.

The recipients of the Jim Phifer Spirit of Notre Dame Award and Scholarship were Glory Perry and Chandler Brady. The General Excellence Awards were presented to Lauren Stevens and Jason Oliver.

Mary Beth Welch of the Notre Dame Parent Association presented the Heart of Notre Dame Award to Mr. Valadie and the Heart of the Irish Award to teacher Michael McCutcheon.

“I want to say thank you. It’s very humbling. I’m very, very grateful,” Mr. Valadie said.

Before the presentation of diplomas, Mr. Valadie made an announcement that ran contrary to similar ones made at that point in a graduation ceremony.

“During my education career, this happens to be the 30th graduation ceremony over which I’ve had the privilege to preside, and at each and every one, I have paused at this exact moment and respectfully requested that our audience please refrain from excessive cheering, but not today,” he said. “You are invited if not encouraged to cheer as loudly as you can for every one of the members of the class of 2020.”

A Notre Dame High School graduate poses for the school photographer after receiving his diploma.

After the diplomas were awarded, NDHS director of admissions Laura Goodhard (NDHS ’04) inducted the class of 2020 into the Notre Dame High School Alumni Association.

Mr. Valadie followed with closing remarks.

“First, to Bishop Stika, Dr. Prater, and the many, many supportive people throughout our diocese—their help and encouragement through this and every school year are and have always been most appreciated.

“Thank you to the behind-the-scenes men and women who contribute so much to our senior ceremonies. As we made the transition to virtual ceremonies, and as we navigated the details of this setup, it did indeed take a village. I cannot thank them enough. The detail to which these folks pay attention—especially in ceremonies like these—makes all the difference. They make every effort to turn ‘special’ into ‘memorable.’”

To the Home & School Association, Mr. Valadie said that “though the year was cut short . . . many events did happen earlier in our school year that would not have happened were it not for the support of our parents who continually volunteer their time and energy and resources. Regardless of your role, we thank each and every one of you.”

The NDHS school president also thanked the parents of the class of 2020.

“I’ve been the parent of a senior—three times—and it’s a physical and emotional challenge in years when everything falls perfectly into place,” he said. “Not only did we not have everything, what we did have never fell perfectly into place. So we thank you for all you have done. It is never lost on us that these students are your most prized possessions and that you entrusted us to be a part of their teenage years.

“I was almost tempted to say, ‘I sure wish we could do senior year again next year,’ but I’m not crazy and neither are you. So we thank you from the bottom of our hearts.”

Mr. Valadie saluted the faculty of Notre Dame as well.

“Seven hours a day, five days a week, 10 months a year—we entrust our children to their care. They teach and they coach, they counsel and console,” he said. “Added to that, this year we asked faculty who had never taught remotely to educate students who had never learned that way. And we expected them to do it well.

“But today is not only about what happened during those final three months but all that happened in the days and years before that. I ask everyone here to please join me in thanking them for their efforts this and every year.”

Mr. Valadie recognized two teachers who retired at the end of the school year after a combined 42 years of service to NDHS: Kathy Fisher and Pat Landry.

For the class of 2020, Mr. Valadie had special remarks.

“It’s been said that ‘You cannot call yourself the Fighting Irish if you’ve never had to fight for anything,’” he said. “Well, I guess you can check that off your list. The battle to get here has been real. And I don’t know about you, but it probably feels like we’ve been fighting the year 2020 itself. Think about it … a pandemic, the attack of the killer hornets, a crippling recession, unemployment numbers not seen in recent times, social unrest across the globe, the utter disappearance of so many things we had come to know, and now we’re getting ready for the Sahara Desert sandstorm, which is crossing the Atlantic Ocean to come for us … well of course it is …”

Mr. Valadie asked the seniors to recall the first school day of the year, “not the first day of class but the day before that when all of you gathered for your annual orientation session. We were gathered in the theater, which we didn’t even call the theater back then. That’s the day you first met Father Manning and Mrs. Swen­son, and of course that’s the day Mr. Mullin recited his annual list of things you need to do—and things it would be stupid to do.

“I don’t know if you also remember that I showed up to the meeting with two caps and two gowns and got folks to try them on. As these two pretended to walk across our stage and receive their diploma, I talked about author Stephen Covey’s famous book The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, in which he says we should begin any project by keeping the end in mind. We should live our lives that way, too.

“So with those two standing in front of you wearing caps and gowns, I asked you to begin your senior year with the end in mind. I asked you to leap ahead and imagine the conclusion of your senior year and envision your Baccalaureate and your graduation and all that you needed to do and all that needed to happen to get you there.”

No one that day could have foreseen the tumultuous year ahead.

Notre Dame High School graduates fling their caps into the air

“I’m willing to bet a year of Mr. Mullin’s salary that none of you—certainly not me—not one of us could imagine what was about to happen. And certainly none of us imagined being here on this day at this time,” Mr. Valadie said. “I mention it because it is my belief that you also cannot imagine all that will happen to you in the life you will lead when you walk out of this stadium.

“Some will lead lives of ease, but not everyone. Some will travel the globe, while some will spend their entire lives in a 100-mile radius. All will experience the incredible goodness God has created as well as depths of great sadness. All of it comes with being alive—but as for the details, we couldn’t even imagine senior year: there’s no way to imagine all that lies in your future.”

The fourth quarter of the class of 2020’s senior year “will not be the toughest battle you ever wage—and on top of that, I don’t want it to be,” Mr. Valadie said. “The world needs you to be fighters, to be warriors, to fight for those who can’t . . . to fight for those without a voice . . . to fight against injustice . . . to fight for those who are exhausted from fights of their own . . . to fight for somebody else, anybody else but you . . .

“Though you cannot imagine it, you can still have goals, so I want you to go study what you want to study; I want you to prepare for the career of your dreams; I want you to make all the money you want to make and see all the sights you want to see, but along the way I also want you to figure out how you can use what you know to make your corner of the world a little bit better place for those who have need.

“If 2020 has shown us nothing else, it’s that the world needs brilliant people who will care about and care for all of God’s creatures and all of God’s creation.”

Mr. Valadie closed by asking the class of 2020 to return to NDHS in the future.

“Lastly, I can’t let you go without also inviting you back. Looks like a lot of colleges aren’t going to have a fall break, so maybe you make some plans to come see us for our traditional Homecoming celebration, where we will enjoy the oldest of Notre Dame traditions: you will tell us lies about how well you’re doing, and we will tell you lies about how much we miss you.

“Lastly, thank you for every good thing you have done for our school and especially for the classy way you have handled the spring of 2020. God bless you all.”

For the final blessing, Mr. Valadie invited everyone in attendance to stand and extend his or her right arm over the seniors as they prayed:

“May the God who is eagle fly above you to protect you. May the God who is light go before you in times of darkness. May the God who is rock comfort you in times of trouble. May the God who is laughter go between you and make you one. May the God who is love go within you to make you a treasure of life. And may the God who is life be with you through all eternity. Amen.”

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